Mardi Gras is in full swing my friends and it’s all about King Cakes, Italian Carnevale pastries and Paczki for this chef.
Yes, it’s time to celebrate Fat Tuesday.
Celebrations began on Epiphany and culminate on the eve of Ash Wednesday.
Mardi Gras is French for fat Tuesday and refers to the practice of eating rich fatty foods before the Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday, which leads into Easter six weeks later.
It’s also it’s time to party and enjoy a rich traditions whether your from Italy, France, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Brazil or Spain because every country celebrates with traditional food and drink.
King Cakes date back to the European 12 night tradition and the celebration of Christmas and Baby Jesus.
The cakes are celebrated from Epiphany until Fat Tuesday in honor of the Three Kings arriving at the manger with gifts for Jesus. The cakes are braided like a crown and contain the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.
Originally there were beans in the cake but today most king cakes contain a little plastic baby. Whoever gets the baby in their slice of cake traditionally becomes the king or queen of the party and gets to bake the cake the following year. Also getting the baby supposedly brings good luck.
This past week, our Slow Food Kansas City Convivium celebrated with a workshop at the Roth Concept Center in Lenexa with Paul McCool and 25 enthusiastic bakers receiving a recipe and a hands-on lesson on how to prepare the perfect King Cake at home.
The class started with a history of the cake along with a demonstration and recipe review and then students went to work creating their own king cakes.
During the class, I prepared New Orleans gumbo and some of my own King Cake Cocktails prepared with the Roasterie’s Dizzy Three Vodka, ice cream and chocolate.
At the end of class, each student took home their own King Cake along with traditional masquerade decorations, Mardi Gras beads and of course a plastic baby to place on their cake.
For those who do not have the time to bake their own king cake, they are a available at local Hen House Markets or available online from Cannata’s Market in Houma, La., and Manny Randazzo’s King Cakes.
It’s hard to believe that you would have any leftovers of this delicious cinnamon layered cake but if you do I have the perfect recipe for my signature King Cake Bread Pudding. I like to say when life gives you King Cakes, you make King Cake Bread Pudding.
Another tradition for Mardi Gras is donuts and the most popular are Polish Paczki, pronounced “Punch-Key”. For hundreds of years in Poland, the countrymen have been celebrating the arrival of Mardi Gras by making these delicious jelly filled donuts from the finest ingredients available, including as much lard and fat as they can put in a doughnut.
This was their way of celebrating and fattening up before Lent begins. Their German neighbors to the west call these donuts Berliners while their Austrian friends to the south celebrate with Krapfen.
The doughnuts are a little heavier then regular donuts because they contain much more fat. I have enjoyed these filled with lemon filling, Bavarian cream and of course sweet strawberry or grape jelly.
Personally, I am experimenting with my own Paczki and plan to fill with cannoli filling.
In Italy, the Carnevale celebration received its name from Carne Levare which translates to remove meat and is more about dressing up and of course masquerades, especially in Venice. But believe me, if it’s a celebration, it’s always about food in Italy.
Carnival Lasagna, Italian sausages with polenta and of course pizza sfogliata are very popular but fried pastries and desserts rule, perhaps the best-known Carnival pastries being Cenci (the word means rags).
Cenci or Fritelle are easy to prepare. Usually I just use leftover pizza dough or pastry dough and a little more fat and place any deep-fried until crisp. We then dust with loads of powdered sugar and serve warm with espresso or cappuccino.
In Sicily, of course, Cannoli is celebrated along with Sfinge, little fritters rolled in powdered sugar and drizzled with honey.
And so my friends, whether you’re celebrating with King Cakes, donuts or fried Italian pastry it really doesn’t matter as long as you’re celebrating Mardi Gras and fattening up before the Lenten season begins.
If you do receive the plastic baby in the King Cake, I do hope you celebrate next year with your own. As they say in New Orleans, Laissez les bons temps rouler ... Let the good times roll!Jasper Mirabile’s Mardi Gras King Cake Bread Pudding 1 3-pound King Cake or 12 cinnamon rolls 3 cups of Shatto Milk 6 local eggs 1 cup of sugar 1/2 cup of chopped almonds 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon Plastic baby 1 cup vanilla icing Warm caramel sauce to drizzle Yellow, green and purple sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut King Cake or cinnamon rolls into cubes. In a large mixing bowl, whisk milk and eggs. Add cake/cinnamon rolls, sugar, nuts and cinnamon. Fold all together. Add more milk if needed.
Butter or spray a loaf pan. Add mixture. Hide plastic baby in mix. Bake for 45 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and place on platter. Pour icing on top. Decorate with the colors of Mardi Gras.
Serve with warm caramel sauce.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.