Of King Cakes and Pancake Tuesday

Mon, Feb 15, 2010


Usually the Monday post features one key ingredient such as garlic or chocolate, but this week with Mardi Gras (Carnival) we will be discussing two dishes that have to do with Fat Tuesday in particular.

One might wonder what Mardi Gras is all about besides being a huge festival.  Mardi Gras isn’t known as Mardi Gras everywhere, in Italy, where it originated, it’s called Carnivale as well as in many other parts of the world. This festival isn’t just for one day but actually starts on January 6th and lasts until the day before Ash Wednesday. This last Tuesday is what is usually referred to as Mardi Gras, or  Fat (Gras) Tuesday (Mardi) in French.

Mardi Gras got its name because of the late night eating of rich, fatty foods before fasting for Lent. Of course food isn’t the only thing associated with Mardi Gras or Carnival in general, but that is what we will be focusing on here!

King cake is usually associated around the world with the Christmas season, but in the United States it is instead associated with Mardi Gras.  This cake was brought to the New Orleans area by colonists from France and Spain. Some organizations or groups of friends have “king cake parties” every week through the Carnival season, which has been documented back to the 18th century.

King cake (specifically New Orleans’ king cake) comes in a number of styles. The easiest and most traditional to make is a ring of twisted bread, similar to that used in a brioche, topped with icing or sugar usually in traditional Mardi Gras colors, purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power).

There are some variants on the king cake which include filling, the most common being cream cheese and praline. These cakes all have little treasures baked into them, usually a baby, a king wearing a crown, and most traditionally a bean (also traditional in many European king cakes). These trinkets are sometimes sold separately from the cake as to prevent choking hazards.

If you aren’t from the US but from perhaps Britain, Australia, Ireland or Canada, you may be celebrating Shrove Tuesday as something called “Pancake Day” or “Pancake Tuesday”! Some Pancake Tuesday events have a pancake race. Each competitor uses a frying pan to carry a pancake, flipping the pancake and catching it in the pan. There is even an International Pancake Race that is held in the towns of  Liberal, Kansas and Olney, England, every year.

Usually the pancakes made for Pancake Day are thin and crepe like, but in Newfoundland  they are cooked with objects such as rings, coins or other meaningful objects.

Whether you celebrate with pancakes or king cakes, here’s something to think about when celebrating tomorrow:

“I think if there is any world left in which human beings still laugh and still, even on rare occasions, have fun, there will be Mardi Gras, and that it will live through whatever catastrophes occur… Men cease to laugh only when they are very ill or when they have become beasts….That is why Mardi Gras is not a trivial matter but a very important one. In a way it is a symbol of the art of being human, and wherever people are still human, wherever they still enjoy living, it will exist in some form.” – Robert Tallant, from his book “Mardi Gras…As It Was“.

Photo by MRHSfan.

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Rochelle - who has written 324 posts on Made in Kitchen Blog.

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