King Cake Recipe

So…I’m a bit behind (cough, cough, almost a year and a half, cough cough) posting this, but I’m ready to get back into blogging and wanted to get it up for all of you who’ve been asking for it. I typed this entry up for Mardi Gras 2012 and never posted it.

We’ve had a lot of changes to our family since I was blogging more consistently, and I can’t wait to tell you about all of them. But, the biggest change is one we announced at our Mardi Gras party via a tiny trinket, instead of the usual plastic baby, hidden in our delicious king cake:

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Indeed, this handsome fellow joined our family in September…

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And here he is, at his nine-month appointment (nine months!) in June…

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Needless to say, we’ve had a lot to occupy ourselves over the past several months! I hope your lives have been as fun-filled as ours have, and I’m looking forward to updating my blog more often in the coming months!

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Happy Mardi Gras!  We have been a bit frantic the past two days getting ready for our Mardi Gras party this evening.  I’m thrilled to have the chance to celebrate one of my favorite holidays and share a little bit of my Louisiana heritage with some friends tonight!

I’ve made a grand total of four king cakes this Mardi Gras season, and I’m proud to say I’ve finally perfected the recipe.  Next year, I’m looking forward to trying out a few new filling flavors for the king cake.  My attempt at a strawberry cream cheese filling this year was acceptable, but less than superb.

Even if you don’t celebrate Mardi Gras in your neck of the woods, be sure to listen to a little zydeco tonight to get in on the fun!

And…for a little background info on the tradition of the king cake, check this out: Is that a plastic baby in my cake?.

As we say in Louisiana, laissez les bons temps rouler, or, let the good times roll!

King Cake
serves 20, making 2 small cakes or one large cake

For the pastry:
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 packages or 4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar, divided
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus some for kneading and rolling out dough

For the filling:
1 1/2 cups pecans, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt (I used kosher)
3/4 cup melted butter

For the glaze:
4 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
8 Tbsp water
2 tsp vanilla extract

And the finishing touches:
purple, green, and gold sprinkles
1 small, plastic baby or a bean

1. Scald the milk, then remove from heat and add the butter. Allow to cool to room temperature.

2. Meanwhile, combine the yeast with the warm water and one tablespoon of the sugar in a large bowl. I used the bowl of my stand mixer. Allow the yeast to dissolve and then leave to sit (about 10 minutes) until mixture is foamy.

3. Once the milk and butter have cooled, add to yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, combining after each addition.

4. Add the sugar, salt, and nutmeg. Beat the flour, one cup at a time, into the mixture. Once the dough has come together, knead for about 10 minutes on a well-floured surface. You may need to add an additional tablespoon or two of flour to the dough as you are kneading.

5. Grease another bowl (or wash your first bowl and reuse it), and allow kneaded dough to rise about two hours or until doubled in size. When risen, punch the dough down and divide in half.

6. While the dough is rising, make your filling by combining the first five ingredients. Then add the melted butter, mixing the filling until it is crumbly.

7. Roll half of the dough out into a rectangle of approximately 10 x 16 inches. Spread half of the filling over all of the dough, then carefully roll it up, like you would a jelly roll. If you are making two separate cakes, form the dough into a small oval and place on a greased cookie sheet or a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper. For one cake, form half of a large oval and place on cookie sheet. Repeat with second half of the dough, either forming a second cake, or completing the large oval for a single cake. If making one single cake, be sure to tuck the ends of the two logs carefully into one another. Also, make sure to place the seam at the bottom of the cake to prevent the filling from leaking. For aesthetics, you can make small indentations spiraling around the cake with a butter knife, but be sure not to press too firmly, or the filling will leak out!

8. Allow dough to rise 45 minutes, then bake on 350 for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Be sure to check the dough often, as it browns quickly! Remove from oven and allow to cool.

9. Meanwhile, make the glaze. Combine sugar and extract, then add as much water as necessary to make the glaze as thick as you prefer. I like mine fairly thick so it sticks to the cake well.

10. Glaze the cake in sections and add sprinkles, alternating purple, green, and gold. I use a technique similar to my approach for my Italian cookies: let the glaze start to set before adding sprinkles, so they don’t all run off, but don’t wait too long, or they won’t stick to the cake.

11. If desired, hide plastic baby or other trinket in cake. Serve and devour with all your pre-Lenten fervor!

adapted from allrecipes.com

Very Vanilla Scones

I just came across this entry that I meant to post ages ago!  Well, better late than never…

Our friends Teddy and Lynae got married at the end of October, and we were thrilled to join them for the wedding.  I’d forgotten how enamored I am with the East Coast until we spent the weekend in South Carolina.  The old, red brick buildings against mountains dotted in the gold and amber shades of the changing leavings are just stunning.  Moreover, that part of the country actually experiences autumn, unlike here in Texas.  We were sad to end a beautiful weekend spent reconnecting with college friends and celebrating Teddy and Lynae’s love and new life together.

The wedding was lovely, especially because the bride and groom had incorporated so many delightful personal touches into the celebration: handmade programs, homegrown flowers for the centerpieces, and jams made from fruit they’d picked themselves.  We took home a jar of peach-apple jam, which we devoured over the next couple of weeks.  As we ate the jam with our toast on weekend mornings, we thought of the couple and remembered our few days in South Carolina celebrating with them.

Attached to the jam jars was a family recipe for scones.  I whipped up a version of these scones this week, adding a bit of extra sugar and some vanilla.  After I made a batch using a circle cutter, my husband said the scones looked like biscuits. So, I then made a batch of triangle-shaped scones, which I think are much more easily recognizable as scones to our American eyes.  And did you know that the authentic Scottish pronunciation of “scone” rhymes with “John,” rather than “own”?  Really, Teddy and his family swear this is the correct pronunciation, and the ever-reliable Wikipedia confirms it!

Just look at those tiny black dots–heavenly vanilla!  I ordered a bunch of beans on Amazon recently, and I’m extremely excited about my purchase.  Won’t you join me in making some scohns this weekend?

Vanilla Scones
makes approximately 8 triangular scones or 12 round scones

3 1/2 cups flour
3 Tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 vanilla beans
6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) butter
4 eggs
1/2 cup milk

1. Pre-heat your oven to 450°. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Slice open your vanilla beans and scrape the tiny seeds into the flour mixture. Stir.

2. Cut your butter into 1/2-inch thick slices. Quickly work the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers. The butter should be about the size of grains of oatmeal.

3. Whisk together the egg and milk, and the add most of the egg mixture to the large bowl. Save enough of the egg mixture to brush over the tops of the scones before baking. Stir with a fork to combine.

4. Knead the dough for a few seconds on a floured surface. Press the dough out until it is about 3/4 of an inch thick. If you want triangular scones, press dough into a circular shape, the cut the dough with a pizza cutter into 8 triangles. If you prefer circular scones, use a 2- or 3-inch biscuit cutter to cut 8 circles into the dough. You can re-roll the scraps and cut out more circle.

5. Place scones on a cookie sheet that has either been greased or lined with parchment paper. Brush tops with egg mixtures. Cook for 10 minutes or until slightly golden, rotating pan after 5 minutes. Serve with jam and homemade whipped cream. I made an orange-vanilla whipped cream–delicious!

Homemade King Cake Sneak Peek

Homemade King Cake

I made a king cake over the weekend in order to practice for our little Mardi Gras gathering we’ll be hosting on Fat Tuesday this year.  Shipping a king cake or two in from Louisiana gets pretty pricey, and I don’t trust the baked goods passed off as “king cakes” here in Texas.  So, I decided to try making my own this year.

Homemade king cake

I was thrilled with the results!  I won’t share how much of the king cake we consumed over the weekend, but the sad number of slices remaining with which I sent my husband to work this morning is testament to this confection’s fabulousness.  The recipe itself needs a tad bit of tweaking before sharing: I’ve got to fine-tune the baking time and temperature, determine the exact ratio for the frosting ingredients, and perfect the fine art of putting the sprinkles on once the frosting is set enough but hasn’t hardened too much.  I’ll be sharing the recipe with you very soon!

In the meantime, I hope you all, wherever you are, get to have a tiny taste of Mardi Gras this Carnival Season!

Christmas Recap + Chex Mix

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas!  After our trip to Louisiana, we are getting settled back in here in Texas, putting away the last few presents and polishing off the ten-billion tons of remaining Christmas candy and other goodies.

Over the holiday weekend, I spent many happy moments with family,

trained the next generation in the fine art of over-decorating Christmas cookies,

played with puppies,

consumed a variety of delicious food and beverages,

and generally tried way too hard to take artsy pictures with my new iPhone.

Besides my new iPhone, I was thrilled to receive the beautiful glass bowl I’d been eyeing for years for my KitchenAid mixer as well as a new 18-55 mm lens for my camera.

And now that Christmas Day has passed, it is safe to reveal what goodies I cooked up to give. These cute gift baskets were my presents to family in town, and they included Italian cookies, peppermint bark, homemade vanilla extract, green jalapeno pepper jelly, and homemade vanilla bean caramel sauce.  To my husband’s family members across the country and overseas, I shipped Italian cookies, peppermint bark, fudge, and this delicious Chex mix with homemade bagel chips.

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill Chex mix.  The addition of homemade bagel chips, pecans, and loads of additional spices make it an addictive treat!

Chex Mix with Homemade Bagel Chips

Bagel Chips

There isn’t a precise science to making these bagel chips.  Season them how you like them and feel free to get creative!

2 plain bagels, sliced horizontally into quarters
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
Italian seasoning
Garlic powder
Garlic salt
Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 325°.  Melt butter in microwave in small, microwaveable bowl.

2. Add olive oil to butter.  Add Italian seasoning, garlic powder, garlic salt, and Parmesan cheese to taste.  Brush fronts and backs of bagel slices with mixture.

3. Bake bagel slices on cookie sheet for 10 minutes on one side, then 5 additional minutes on second side, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven.  Bagel chips will harden as they cool.  Break into bite-size pieces and enjoy alone or in Chex mix.

inspired by Emeril

Chex Mix

3 cups rice Chex
3 cups corn Chex
3 cups wheat Chex
2-2.5 cups bagel chips
2-2.5 cups pecans
1 stick butter (I used salted, but it depends on your preference. I love my food super-salty!)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp season salt
2 tsp garlic powder
1.25 tsp onion powder

1. Preheat oven to 250°.  Melt stick of butter in large roasting pan in oven.

2. Meanwhile, mix Chex cereals, bagel chips, and pecans in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, mix season salt, garlic powder, and onion powder.

3. When butter is melted, stir in Worcestershire sauce and seasonings until well combined.  Gradually stir in cereals, bagel chips, and pecans until they are coated with butter and seasonings.

4. Bake for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  Spread mix onto paper towels to cool.  Store in an airtight container.

Variations: Add pretzels; substitute other nuts (though I promise, pecans are by far superior).

Adapted from my Mama, adapted from Chex

Peppermint Bark

We made it to Louisiana yesterday to celebrate the holidays with my family.  This morning, I gave one of my goddaughters her apron, so she could wear it for our annual marathon Christmas cookie-baking session, and she loved it!  As children, my siblings and cousins and I would decorate Christmas cookies to leave for Santa every year.  Now, we bake cookies with our cousins’ children, who love to load their cookies up with so many M&Ms, chocolate chips, and sprinkles as to render them completely inedible, much as we used to do when we were little (and some of us still do…not me, of course!).  The cookies usually come out of the oven looking like colorful blobs, completely unrecognizable as the gingerbread men, Christmas trees, and angels they were meant to be.  I’m sure half of our cookies quietly made their ways into the trash within a few days because Santa couldn’t possibly stomach them, and we didn’t have any business consuming that much sugar.

This peppermint bark, on the other hand, is a treat sure to please Santa, Mrs. Claus, and his elves.  It’s fun to make, and simple to throw together.  I struggled with the white chocolate and ended up just using white bark (don’t knock it…I promise you can’t tell the difference when mixed with delicious semi-sweet chocolate and sprinkled with candy canes).  Inspired by the pretty peppermint bark you see in stores like Williams-Sonoma, I swirled the chocolates together.  The first batch I made this year (and I’ve made many!) was, though still tasty, a minor disaster.  I poured the semi-sweet chocolate into the pan first, then added a layer of white chocolate, and finally sprinkled the broken candy canes on top.  When the bark cooled, and I tried to break it apart, the layers sadly separated.  Unsure of what caused this issue and unwilling to experiment and figure it out, I swirled the chocolates to create a much prettier effect certain not to separate.

I’m off to make my last batch of peppermint bark now.  I hope all of you enjoy the holidays and lots of delicious goodies, no matter where you are!

Peppermint Bark
makes two cookie sheets of bark

Ingredients:
1 package (10-12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips (or solid chocolate, chopped)
1 package (10-12 oz) white chocolate chips or white bark (or solid chocolate, chopped)
1 package candy canes (6 oz)

1. Line two jelly roll pans (cookie sheets with lips all the way around) with waxed paper or parchment paper. Unwrap candy canes and break into pieces. I placed candy canes in a ziplock bag and crushed them with a meat mallet.

2. Fill bottoms of two double boilers, or two pots with heat-proof bowls on top, with water. Bring water to a simmer. Melt white chocolate in one boiler and semi-sweet in the other. Stir until smooth.

3. Spoon dollops of the two chocolates into each pan, then use a fork to swirl them together until the chocolate is evenly distributed and the desired pattern is achieved. Sprinkle tops with broken candy cane.

4. Let bark cool, then break into pieces.

Last-Minute Children’s Gift Idea

Phew!  I finally finished my Christmas shopping yesterday.  Thank goodness for free two-day shipping on Amazon.  Every year, I swear I am more on top of my Christmas preparations than I was the previous year, then suddenly, mid-December surprises me out of nowhere!  I mean, really, that sneaky Christmas, who knew it would come on December 25 this year?  Fortunately, all I have left to do is whip up another batch of peppermint bark, assemble my gift baskets, and get ready to head to Louisiana with my husband and pups to celebrate Christmas.

I hope you are also all finished with your shopping and ready to relax and enjoy the holidays.  But, if you need to get a last-minute gift for a child, perhaps a budding baker, I’ve got an idea for you.  I picked up an adorable apron at Williams-Sonoma last week for each of my goddaughters.

Isn’t it cute?  The apron was just over $20.  Williams-Sonoma has dozens of styles that would be perfect for both girls and boys, including aprons with baking-inspired designs and sports logos.  I bought mine in the store, but apparently, it’s still not too late to order online for Christmas delivery.  I’m sure you can find children’s aprons in a variety of toy stores as well.  And of course, for those of you more organized than I could ever hope to be who may already be thinking about birthdays and next Christmas, you could order lovely, handmade aprons ahead of time (Imagine…ordering gifts ahead of time!) from Etsy.

So that my goddaughters can put their new aprons to good use (and christen them with chocolate frosting), I also tucked some cake mix, icing, cupcake wrappers, and sprinkles into their presents.  Of course, these girls are only 3- and 5-years old, so their parents will be doing most of the baking, but kids adore helping mix and measure as well as licking the spoon.

I love how bright and happy these sprinkles are that I found in my grocery store.  You could give all sorts of baking accoutrements and tools: cupcake tins, rubber spatulas, cupcake toppers, tubes of colored icing, or cookie cutters.  This is such a delightful and budget-friendly gift idea for children (or even adult baking novices) that you can customize based on the age of the receiver.

I hope all of you are lucky enough to give and receive gifts this holiday season that are as much fun as this present was for me to put together!