Yesterday was Mardi Gras, (Fat Tuesday in the US or Shrove Tuesday in the UK). The day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, this holiday is celebrated throughout Europe and the US.
The holiday is a flashy celebration with bright colors and costumes in some areas. Of course, the desserts can be just as bright and varied depending on where in the world you are.
The dessert that might be most associated with New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations is King Cake. I had never heard of this before last year, when a former intern now working in New Orleans sent my employer one. It was purple, yellow and green and didn’t look the least bit appetizing. But in this case, looks were deceiving and the cake was pretty good for having been shipped up from Louisiana.
One of the quirky features of a King Cake is that baked inside is a plastic baby. Though there are different interpretations for the reason behind it, the general consensus seems to be that whoever gets the baby in their piece of cake will have good luck for the next year. And that person has to host the next Mardi Gras party.
King Cake is basically a log cake made from challah or brioche-type dough with a cream cheese filling, sometimes braided, glazed with egg or lemon and frosted with royal icing. There are many variations on this, like Joe Pastry’s version with cinnamon sugar in the middle. Though I can’t find a direct recipe for this, the step-by-step photo directions can be helpful for making any kind of King Cake.
There are many other regional baked goods people use to celebrate Mardi Gras besides the King Cake. Another Cajun dessert is the beignet – a doughnut-like treat (though not doughnut shaped) covered with powdered sugar, I was informed by a friend who was in New Orleans for the Mardi Gras celebration over the weekend that these little treats aren’t hard to find around there.
Though making beignets include using yeast and hot oil, something that I and the authors over at Oh My! Sugar High are afraid of, the recipe seems simple enough to follow.
If you’re looking for a recipe that might be a little more challenging, try this one for sugared chocolate stuffed beignets over at Dying for Chocolate. For bite-sized beignets with dipping sauce, Laura Ferroni offers beignets with chicory coffee sauce.
In Germany, the holiday is celebrated with a baked good that is somewhat similar to the French-inspired beignet. Fastnachts are dough-knots (or twists) sugard and served with dark corn syrup.
They are also used to celebrate Fat Tuesday in areas of the US where Pennsylvania Dutch are, and parts of the midwest.
The Christian Science Monitor has a recipe that is technically complicated, but with patience and practice, even unexperienced bakers could be able to make these successfully.
Though there are many other ways to celebrate and indulge in Mardi Gras, these are a few of the more popular ones.
First photo (cc) by yarnivore under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved. Second photo (cc) by beautifulcataya under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved. Third photo (cc) by TimButton under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.