King cake, also known as Three Kings Cake, is a celebration cake that is mainly associated with Mardi Gras, Epiphany and Christmas in different parts of world. Belgium, Switzerland, France, Spain and Portugal are some of the countries that are famous for celebrating the Christmas Eve with King’s cake, whereas The Mardi Gras carnivals held in parts of United States such as New Orleans and Louisiana include this cake as one of the custom.
The highlighted feature of the cake is the tiny trinket (usually a toy baby symbolizing the baby Jesus) placed inside it. The cake is not only regarded as a food item, but is also associated with various traditions to be followed by the people who eat it.
Story of the King Cake
The name of this royal cake is derived from the three kings mentioned in Bible. These kings started their journey to Bethlehem and completed their travel in five days starting from 25th December. Epiphany or ‘Christmas Eve’ was the day of their arrival to their destination for honoring the child Christ. A special cake is made to remember these three kings on this day.
In some traditions, the custom of eating the King Cake extends to Mardi Gras day, that comes after the ‘Twelve days of Christmas’ (Epiphany day and the Twelfth night). Several culinary traditions, such as “King cake parties” or “Tortell of Catalonia” are related with the serving of Three Kings Cake ..
The ‘trinket’ custom has also undergone many changes. Earlier a little bean was hidden inside the cake that has been substituted first by Porcelain figures and at present a plastic figure.
Although it’s a special cake, the regular all-purpose flour is generally used to make the King Cake. Other ingredients are also quite similar to those used in other cakes. Some of the commonly used ingredients are unsalted butter, granulated sugar, dry yeast, egg yolk, and milk. Cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar are used to make the soft and frothy cake filling. For the distinct flavor of the cake, the grated nutmeg, lemon juice and grated lemon zest are especially added.
The colorful sugar sprinkles in purple, gold and green colors are spread over the cake to make it more elaborated.
The cake filling is particularly spread over the bottom half of the cake dough. The top half of the dough is then flipped over the filling and a cylindrical shape is given to the dough. To finalize the cake, the dough is set into the shape of ring and both the ends are pinched together to seal. The ‘trinket’ is also placed inside the dough so that it is not visible.
Dough is then kept to rise for at least 45-50 minutes. A preheated oven is used to bake the cake until golden brown. Cooled cake is being iced with a combination of milk, lemon juice and confectioner’s sugar.
King cake is traditionally cut into slices in the presence of guests. The person who gets the piece of cake containing the trinket is declared to be the ‘king/queen of the day’.
Varieties of Three Kings Cake
- La galette des Rois – This French King cake is also known as ‘wafer’ of the kings. The centre of the cake is filled with frangipane, candied fruits. It is either made as a flaky pastry or shaped like a brioche.
- Roscón de reyes – Also known as ‘rosca de reyes’, is the Spanish version of Three Kings cake that is mainly eaten at Mardi Gras on January 6th every year.
According to the traditions, the person who gets the piece of cake containing the trinket comes under the obligation to buy the king cake for next year.