My son Ken is a catechumen in the Roman Catholic church; this means he is learning about the church, the faith and sacraments in preparation for his reception into the community in the spring of 2014. He was never baptized, although I had every intention of doing so until I looked into our local parish. After about a month of attending Mass, I decided this was not the community in which I felt comfortable raising my child as a Catholic. The leadership of the church was overly conservative compared to my family’s parish in Washington, DC. This Virginia parish didn’t allow girls to serve during Mass and the homilies were more concerned with fundraising (they have a parochial school) than with helping you develop a deeper understand of our faith.
At the time, neighborhoods were assigned to a parish and weren’t allowed to switch, so I didn’t bother to look elsewhere…at least not until Ken announced he wanted to pursue religious education. Luckily, I had heard of a parish a few towns over that several of my friends had joined; I made an appointment for me and Ken to chat with the director of religious education. I explained to my son that the process was one of faith formation and education and if he felt that he didn’t want to proceed with conversion, then that was perfectly fine.
What a change at the new parish! I knew immediately that this was an open, welcoming community. Unlike the hierarchical nature of my assigned parish, this one was intent on including and increasing the laity’s participation. I also learned that now I could switch to whatever parish I wanted, so I registered my family on the spot, got the schedule for youth RCIA (the process for non-Catholics to become Catholic) and joined a 6-week session for adults looking to reconnect with their faith.
So far, Ken likes the weekly classes; I think he was surprised to discover he had more knowledge of religion than he thought! (That’s probably due to my mother who religiously watches EWTN, no pun intended)! The kids go to class and then attend Mass together afterwards; parents are also invited to sit with the group. My son, who is still learning the format of the Mass, looks at me in amazement every Sunday as I recite all the responses and sit, stand and kneel on cue. Many, many years of an all-girls Catholic school will do that for you…
On our way home last Sunday, Ken was full of information about Lent, but his big news was MARDI GRAS! (Leave it to my kid to focus on the party aspect). He decided he was going to give up junk food for Lent, a very challenging choice since he is, after all, a tweenie. However, he informed me that since Mardi Gras was “the last hurrah” before Lent, he wanted a big blow out of all his favorite goodies. “That’s why it’s called FAT Tuesday, Mom!” He cracks me up, but I went along and bought him a selection of his favorite things; he took them to school today (along with a sandwich which I doubt he’ll eat) and promised me he would share the goodies with his lunch mates. We’ll see…
Since it’s his first ever Mardi Gras, I decided I’d make him a King’s Cake. He’ll like the idea of finding the hidden baby and it will be a good way to re-introduce the Magi and Epiphany as well as how the colors purple, gold and green represent the kings’ faith, power and justice. He already has some notion of Epiphany because I’ve explained the twelve days of Christmas and actually keep the Christmas decorations up until then. In addition to all that, who doesn’t like pecan rolls, even if they’re presented as a crown and covered with festive sugar sprinkles?
King’s Cake is, as you can guess, a yeast bread; a pecan roll that is joined at the ends instead of sliced, baked then slathered with a powdered sugar glaze and the colored sugars. Consequently, you need some time to make this “cake,” but it’s not that difficult if you’ve ever made cinnamon rolls! I found a recipe online from allrecipes.com; you can get it here. I made a few changes to recipe. I omitted the raisins, doubled the amount of pecans, and instead of melting the butter for the filling, I merely softened it then spread it on the pressed out dough. I think the filling adheres better that way. I also cut the recipe in half (there’s a tool to scale the recipe on the site).
Mardi Gras King’s Cake (from allrecipes.com)
Microwave the milk for a minute til hot, then add the butter. Stir and let the mixture come to room temperature.
In a medium mixing bowl, mix the yeast with the warm water and 1 TB of the sugar. Stir and let yeast proof til bubbly, 5-10 minutes. If the yeast doesn’t foam and bubble, quit and go buy new yeast.
Add the milk/butter mixture and egg to the yeast and whisk to combine.
Add the egg and whisk.
Add the remaining sugar, salt and nutmeg. Whisk again.
Add the flour one cup at a time. I use a wooden spoon to mix the flour and liquids together.
Once the dough pulls together (you may need more or less flour than called for in the recipe), stop mixing
and dump the dough onto a floured board. Knead til smooth and elastic.
Place dough into an oiled bowl, turning dough to coat the entire surface with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise til double in volume, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
In the meantime, prepare the filling by mixing the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon, then stirring in the chopped pecans.
When the dough has risen, remove it to a floured board
and press it into a 10 x 16 inch (approximately) rectangle.
Using a spatula or your fingers, spread the softened butter over the dough rectangle.
Sprinkle with the filling, leaving a 1-inch border along the perimeter.
Roll the dough starting from the long side to form a giant log. I seal the long edge by pinching the dough together.
Place the log onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, joining the ends together. I pinch the ends together to seal, like the seam. Using a set of kitchen shears, make cuts 1/3 of the way into the log, at 1 inch intervals.
Cover the log with plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When the dough is ready, bake it for 30 minutes. You may have to cover the top with foil if it browns too quickly.
Remove from the oven and let cool completely. If you are using a baby to determine the “king” or “queen,” now is the time to push it into the cake. I didn’t have a baby, but I thought this would do:
When ready to decorate, prepare the glaze. Coat the surface of the cake with the glaze and sprinkle with purple, yellow and green sugar.