Our Man In Louisiana
Mardi Gras Crab Cakes
Dateline: Lafayette, Louisiana, USA (almost)
South Louisiana (that portion below Interstate highway 10, the boudin curtain), begins the Mardi Gras season on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany (Twelfth Night). Mardi Gras for us is a full season of celebration, Mardi Gras balls, festivals, parades, parties, community spirit, family traditions, and the sharing of King Cakes.
The Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the presentation of gifts to the Christ child by the Magi or the three wise men. The King Cake is believed to have originated in France around the 12th century as the crowning glory of this feast. The main part of the celebration was the baking of a King Cake to honor the three Kings. The cakes are traditionally circular to represent the circular route used by the kings to get to the Christ Child and to confuse King Herod, who as you remember, was trying to learn where the Christ child was by following the kings. Like many other early European festival cakes, King Cakes contained a hidden surprise, an uncooked pea, bean or a coin. The person who got the hidden piece was declared King for the day, or was to have especially good luck for the coming year. This tradition along with a rich cultural heritage was carried to South Louisiana by the French when they arrived from Nova Scotia.
King Cakes were introduced into Louisiana's Mardi Gras traditions by the Twelfth Night Revelers, a New Orleans party organization, during the 1870 celebration. A king cake with a "golden bean" baked inside was sliced and given to the ladies of the court. The lady whose slice contained the bean was crowned the queen of the festival. Most king cakes now have plastic babies, representing the Christ child baked inside. Tradition now dictates that the person receiving the slice of cake with the baby is obligated to buy the next cake for their friends. King cakes are common sights in school rooms, business offices, and homed during Louisiana's Mardi Gras season.
For those who would like to experience a King cake Louisiana style but are unable to visit us, here is a recipe for making your own. The recipe is from "CAJUN MEN COOK", published by the Beaver Club of Lafayette, P.O. Box 2744, Lafayette,Louisiana,70502.
5-6 cups all purpose flour
2 packages dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water (105 degrees F to 115 degrees F)
1 cup warm milk (same temp as water)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup butter or margarine
Filling and glaze:
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup chopped pecans or other nuts
1/2 cup All Purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter or margarine (melted)
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup of granulated sugar each (colored with fold coloring to be bright yellow, green and purple), these are the Mardi Gras festival colors.
Scald milk, remove from heat and put butter into milk to soften - allow to cool. Sprinkle yeast over warm water into which a tablespoon of sugar has been added. Rinse a large mixing bowl under very warm water and dry. When the yeast mixture is bubbling, pour it into the large bowl and add milk, testing that it has cooled and is slightly warm to the touch. Add 2 eggs and whish until frothy. Add one or two cups of flour, sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat well until all ingredients are blended thoroughly and dough is elastic. Add another cup of flour and beat. When mixture becomes thick and leaves the sides of the bowl, turn out onto a floured board or counter top. Knead dough and add remaining flour, sprinkling flour onto surface used for kneading. Knead until smooth - approximately 10 minutes. Grease another large bowl with cooking oil. Put dough into bowl then turn over dough so oiled surface is up. Cover with a damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap.. Place in warm place until double in size - about 1-2 hours. When risen punch down, divide dough in half or into fours. Roll dough into rectangles. Sprinkle rectangles with filling, this is when you put in the plastic doll, dried bean, etc. Roll up like jelly rolls beginning at wide side. Seal ends well. Form into ovals or circles on a greased 4" X 9" cake pans or 2 large cookie sheets. With scissors, make cuts 1/3 way through the ring at 1 inch intervals. Let rise. Bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees F, Frost while warm with 1 cup confectioners sugar blended with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. For filling mix all dry ingredients except confectioner's sugar. Pour melted butter over this and mix until crumbly. Sprinkle colored sugar over the melted confectioner's sugar for the Mardi Gras festival color to add to the party.
You may also decorate with Mardi Gras beads, coins, or other trinkets that fit the occasion.
As we say in South Louisiana when we have given you something for free "it's Lagniappe."
Larry Swindle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org