Okay, time to school ya’ll a bit now. Today, in case you weren’t aware, is Mardi Gras.
The terms “Mardi Gras” (mâr′·dē grâ), “Mardi Gras season“, and “Carnival season“, in English, refer to events of the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after the Epiphany and ending on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” (in ethnic English tradition, Shrove Tuesday), referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which started on Ash Wednesday. Related popular practices were associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. Popular practices included wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc. Similar expressions to Mardi Gras appear in other European languages sharing the Christian tradition. In English, the day is called Shrove Tuesday, associated with the religious requirement for confession before Lent begins.
The king cake of the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition comes in a number of styles. The most simple, said to be the most traditional, is a ring of twisted bread similar to that used in brioche topped with icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green, and gold (the traditional Carnival colors) with food coloring. There are many variants, some with a filling, the most common being cream cheese and praline.
It has become customary in the New Orleans culture that whoever finds the trinket must provide the next king cake.
King’s cake is usually flavored with nutmeg and lemon zest/lemon flavoring. I’ve adored New Orleans culture ever since I read my first Anne Rice book at age 11, so, despite not being a religious person, or having any personal ties to Louisiana or the Creole people, I decided to make these King’s cupcakes (courtesy of King Arthur Flour) topped with cream cheese frosting (the traditional filling for New Orleans King’s cake) and purple, yellow and green sugar. Plus- the Saints won the Superbowl… and despite me hating football with every fiber of my being, I agree the people of Nola needed that boost. I made my own colored sugar (mixing 2 drops of food coloring with 1 cup sugar for each color). But you can also buy them in any and every color. I just don’t use colored sugar that often, and this way I can make as much as I need at any given time. I used some green and purple liners too. The colors purple, yellow and green are traditional Mardi Gras colors. I just sprinkled the sugar on top sort of haphazardly. That’s just the way I am… I’m a wild card. You could use sprinkles in those colors too, instead of colored sugar.
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons soft butter
- 2/3 cup milk, at room temperature
- ¼ teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia; OR 1 teaspoon vanilla + 1/8 teaspoon lemon oil
- 2 large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour a muffin tin. You can also line the muffin tins with papers, and spray the insides of the papers.
- To make the cupcakes: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt.
- Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.
- Combine the milk and vanilla + lemon oil (or Fiori di Sicilia) and add, all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.
- With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Add the second egg, again beating for 30 seconds.
- Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat briefly, just till smooth.
- Scoop the batter by heaping ¼-cupfuls into the prepared muffin tin. A muffin scoop works well here.
- Bake the cupcakes for 23 to 25 minutes, until they’ve domed, and are a light golden brown around the edges. They’ll spring back when pressed gently on top, and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.
- Remove the cupcakes from the oven, and place on a rack to cool completely before icing.
CREAM CHEESE LEMON FROSTING
- 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup cream cheese (about 4 ounces), at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon lemon oil
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- ½ to 1 ounce milk, enough to make a spreadable icing
- colored sugars, preferably purple, yellow, and green
- Combine the butter, cream cheese, vanilla, and lemon oil in a medium-sized bowl, and beat them together until light and fluffy.
- Add the sugar gradually, beating well.
- Beat in the milk a little at a time, until the frosting is a spreadable consistency.
- Spread each cake with icing, and immediately dip in gold, purple, and green sparkling sugars, covering about 1/3 of the cupcake with each color sugar.
- Store at room temperature for several days. For longer storage, wrap well and freeze.
Yield: 12 cupcakes.
Despite the way it looks in the pictures, I used Wilton violet food coloring for the purple, and purple liners too- not blue!
Okay I got 14 not 12, so who knows. I didn’t use a quarter cup in each because I tried it with the first one, and it was way too much for my muffin tins. That one consequently kind of overflowed in a weird mushroom shape. So I say just fill them three quarters of the way up. These were very yummy, I’m not much of a fan of cream cheese frosting, so the added lemon flavor makes it better in my opinion. I loved the flavor of the cake itself. If you don’t have (or don’t want to buy) the Fiori di Sicilia, you can use lemon extract/lemon oil. This isn’t just a cake for Mardi Gras. The flavor would work well as a spring cupcake or even in the winter or fall. Probably it’s the nutmeg that gives it warmth and depth for wintery cakes, but yet the lemon makes it perfect for warmer weather.
Another option, if you prefer cake to cupcakes, is to make this in a bundt. Then frost just the top with the frosting, and sprinkle the sugar on top in three batches; purple, green then gold. That would resemble the circular King’s cake fairly closely.