Simone Appetit: Mardi Gras + Academy Awards + DiCaprio = King Cake
I know. What does all of the above have to do with a recipe column? Let me explain. I only write one column a week, and this year the Academy Awards (March 2) and Mardi Gras (March 4) fall on my same deadline. How could I possibly choose which one to honor and recipe accordingly?
Enter the Mardi Gras-themed Academy Awards party. We all know that show, even when they cut out all the digital sound awards, is too long. The evening needs some filler, some Cajun cuisine, some bayou boogie, some sparkly beads. No need to get all Mardi Gras naked — Leonardo DiCaprio offered us plenty of that in The Wolf of Wall Street (Word of advice: do not see this in Reno with your parents when they come to visit. Very uncomfortable.)
Actually, it was DiCaprio who was the impetus behind this week’s selection for Simone Appetit. Remember in Titanic where he is on the bow of the ship, arms stretched wide, saying “I’m King of the World?” There you have the lead into the King Cake. Now picture him without clothes and you have Mardi Gras.
Look, even if you are wearing an old muumuu you will be treated like royalty after serving this cake. The tradition of baking a King Cake during the Mardi Gras season (and now awards season) began in the Middle Ages and was brought to the southern United States by colonists from France and Spain.
It kicks off the weeks leading up to the season of Lenten, when Weight Watchers kicks in. The host of the party (that’s you) inserts a little plastic baby or dried bean into the dough of the cake before baking, and the guest who receives the slice with the baby hosts the next party and makes the next King Cake.
4 ounces (half of a large block) cream cheese
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup raisins, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes, drained, and patted dry on paper towels
1/2 cup pecan halves
2 tbls. maple syrup
2 cans (total of 12 rolls) refrigerated crescent rolls
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 to 4 tbls. milk or cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Purple, green, and yellow colored sugar crystals
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a baking sheet with butter-flavored vegetable oil. Place cream cheese, brown sugar, cinnamon, and raisins in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until combined.
Add pecan halves and pulse until pecans are chopped to about 1/4-inch pieces. Stir in maple syrup, set aside. Unroll crescent roll dough (it comes out as a small sheet with dotted lines) and separate into triangles.
Arrange triangles next to each other with the points toward the center, overlapping the longer triangle sides be about 1/4-inch, to form a large round. Where the triangle edges overlap, press theses seams together but only in the middle of each seam, leaving the ends (pointed and big end) of the triangles unsealed so you can fold them up over the filling.
Spread the filling around in a ring on top of this round, about in the middle of the triangles, where you have sealed the seams of each triangle. Place a small plastic baby or dried bean somewhere in the filling. Fold the outer edge of each triangle toward the center, up and over the filling ring, covering the filling, right over it, to the edge of filling.
Now pull the point end of the triangles toward the outer rim of the round to fully enclose the filling, tucking the points under the opposite side. Lightly press the seams. It will look like a pool toy. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
Whisk together the powdered sugar, milk or cream, and vanilla until smooth. The consistency should be fairly thick, but still thin enough to slowly drip down the sides. Add more milk as necessary. Spoon the icing in a ring over the top of the King Cake and allow it to slowly drip down the sides.
To decorate for Mardi Gras, sprinkle wide stripes of purple, green, and yellow colored sugar crystals.
Simone Grandmain is an internationally published travel and food writer who currently calls Truckee-Tahoe home. She welcomes your recipes, kitchen “must-haves” and food news at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A special screening of the documentary “The Human Element” will be hosted Friday, Aug. 16, with an introduction by internationally acclaimed, award-winning photographer James Balog.