It is Mardi Gras season. And that means parties and parades are taking over the streets of The Big Easy. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
The Mardi Gras revelry starts in New Orleans on January 6 with the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, and runs until Fat Tuesday on February 9 with the parades and grand balls of the Zulu and Rex Krewes. When the clock strikes midnight on Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras is over and for practicing Catholics Lent, 40 days of fasting begins.
Mardi Gras might conjure up images of drunken debauchery. But ever since the Crescent City’s first Mardi Gras street parade took place in 1837, the festivities have also revolved around tradition, community, culture and, of course, food.
Brandon Boudet, the chef and owner of Little Dom’s, Dominick’s, 101 Coffee Shop and MiniBar has fond childhood memories of Mardi Gras. Born of Sicilian, French and German ancestry, Boudet can trace his family lineage in the U.S. back to the end of the Civil War, when his ancestors immigrated as farmers. They later became grocers. Boudet remembers watching parades in New Orleans as a child away from the raucous French Quarter from ladder boxes that his father set up along parade routes. After the parades, families and friends gathered to feast on gumbo, jambalaya red beans and rice and crock pots full of roast beef for po’ boys. No Mardi Gras feast was complete without a king cake.
These days, there are plenty of bakeries putting modern spins on the traditional king cake —from the cinnamon roll version to the buttery, flakey kouign amann-cake to the over-the-top Quebedeaux’s Boudin & Cracklins variety. But the classic king cake from Boudet’s childhood was made from a simple yeast dough and topped with that familiar festive tri-colored royal icing — green, purple and gold — that to some symbolizes the three magi who visited the Virgin Mary bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. Most New Orleanians got their king cakes from McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppes until rival Tastee Donuts, which now sells “McKenzie-style” branded king cakes, stole the show.
At Little Dom’s, Brandon celebrates the Mardi Gras season with the flavors of home, including Big Easy favorites like jambalaya, roast beef po’ boys served on NoLa’s Leidenheimer French bread, boudin balls, and king cakes that are made on site.
Head pastry chef Ann Kirk shared her recipe for the Little Dom’s king cake, complete with a baby tucked in. (In accordance with Mardi Gras tradition, whoever gets the baby in his or her slice of king cake has to host the next Mardi Gras party!)
Little Dom’s Mardi Gras King Cake
Recipe courtesy of Little Dom’s Head Pastry Chef Ann Kirk
Yield: Makes one king cake
33 g fresh yeast
½ cup warm water
2 tsps sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tsps salt
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp lemon zest
½ cup warm milk
½ cup melted butter, cooled
5 each yolks
½ cup golden raisins
1 small baby figurine
In a small bowl, combine yeast, warm water and sugar. Let stand for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a mixer bowl, combine the dry ingredients together. Add in yeast mixture and combine until smooth. Add in the milk mixture and beat until smooth. Then, switch to hook attachment and knead until smooth. Add a bit of flour if necessary until dough is no longer sticky. Knead the dough until consistency is smooth and elastic.
Spray a third bowl with nonstick spray and transfer the dough to it. Cover and allow to rise until the dough is double in size, approximately 90 minutes. Punch it down.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead in the golden raisins. Roll into a long, thin log and twist into an oval-shape. Transfer to a sheet tray lined with sprayed parchment. Cover the dough with a towel and allow to rise for approximately 45 minutes.
Bake in a 350ºF still oven for approximately 30 minutes. Then remove the cake from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Once cool, use a knife to make a slit in the bottom of the cake and press the baby figurine inside without widening the opening too much. Add sugar soon after icing.
3 cups of powdered sugar
2 egg whites
1 tsp lemon juice
Colored sugars and food gels (purple, green and gold)
For the icing: Combine the sugar and egg whites in a mixing bowl. Whisk together until the mixture is thick and shiny and can hold its shape. Then, add the lemon juice (more if the icing is too thick).
To decorate: Once the cake has cooled, brush on a thin layer of white icing. Sprinkle the colored sugars across the surface as a solid or in alternating color blocks, as desired. Get creative and paint on your own Mardi Gras patterns using the colored food gels.
All photos courtesy of Little Dom’s.