- The foundation of Mardi Gras was started long before the French. Some historians see a relationship to the ancient fertility rituals performed to welcome the coming of Spring, a time of rebirth. One possible early version of the Mardi Gras festival was the Lupercalia. This was a celebration around mid-February in Rome. The early Church leaders diverted the pagan practices toward a more Christian focus.
- The name Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday in French. The day is known as Fat Tuesday, since it is the last day before Lent. Lent is the season of prayer and fasting observed by the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations during the forty days and seven Sundays before Easter Sunday. Easter can be on any Sunday from March 23 to April 25, since the exact day is set to coincide with the first Sunday after the full moon following the Spring Equinox. Mardi Gras occurs on any Tuesday from February 3 through March 9. The Gregorian calendar, setup by the Catholic Church, determines the exact day for Mardi Gras.
- The celebration started in New Orleans around the seventeenth century, when Jean Baptiste LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville, and Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur de Iberville founded the city. In 1699, the group set up camp 60 miles south of the present location of New Orleans on the river's West Bank. They named the site Point du Mardi Gras in recognition of the major French holiday happening on that day, March 3. The late 1700's, saw pre-Lenten balls and fetes in the infant New Orleans. The masked balls continued until the Spanish government took over and banned the events. The ban even continued after New Orleans became an American city in 1803. Eventually, the predominant Creole population revitalized the balls by 1823. Within the next four years, street masking was legalized.
- The early Mardi Gras consisted of citizens wearing masks on foot, in carriages, and on horseback. The first documented parade in 1837 was made of a costumed revelers. The Carnival season eventually became so wild that the authorities banned street masking by the late 1830's. This was an attempt to control the civil disorder arising from this annual celebration.
- This ban didn't stop the hard core celebrators. By the 1840's, a strong desire to ban all public celebrations was growing. Luckily, six young men from Mobile saved Mardi Gras. These men had been members of the Cowbellians, a group that performed New Years Eve parades in Mobile since 1831. The six men established the Mystick Krewe of Comus, which put together the first New Orleans Carnival parade on the evening of Mardi Gras in 1857. The parade consisted of two mule-driven floats. This promoted others to join in on this new addition to Mardi Gras. Unfortunately, the Civil War caused the celebration to loose some of its magic and public observance. The magic returned along with several other new krewes after the war.
The King Cake Story
The King Cake is believed to have been brought to New Orleans, Louisiana, from France in the 1870's. It evolved from the Twelfth Night or Epiphany pastry made by those early settlers. They added their own touches with the Spanish custom of choosing Twelfth Night royalty.
A King Cake is shaped like a crown to represent the kings.
A dried bean or pea was hidden inside the cake and whoever found it received a year of good luck and was treated as royalty for that day. That person also then is designated to bring the King Cake the next year. Starting around the 1930s, a tiny naked baby was used instead of the bean or pea. The baby can be pink, brown, or golden. Some people believe that the baby represents the baby Jesus because Twelfth Night was when the three kings found the baby in Bethlehem.
The payback for being king or queen for the day is that person has to buy the king cake for the next year.
King Cake season lasts throughout Mardi Gras from Epiphany until Mardi Gras Day.
The royal colors of purple, green and gold on the cake honors the three kings who visited the Christ child on Epiphany.
The three colors appeared in 1872 on a Krewe of Rex carnival flag especially designed for the visiting Grand Duke of Russia. He came to New Orleans just for the carnival, and the universal colors remain his legacy.
Bring the Mardi
Gras celebration to wherever you live!
Bake a King Cake and start the tradition!
Recipe # 1
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 (16-oz.) carton sour cream
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. salt
1 pkgs. dry yeast
1 T. sugar
1/2 c. warm water (105 º to 115 º)
6 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
Combine the first 4 ingredients in a saucepan; heat until butter melts, stirring occasionally. Let mixture cool to 105 º to 115 º.
Dissolve yeast and 1 T. sugar in warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Add butter mixture, eggs, and 2 cups of flour; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer for 2 minutes or by hand until smooth. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.
Turn dough out onto a lightly-floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place free from drafts, for 1 hour or until dough is doubled in bulk.
Combine 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon; set aside.
Pinch dough down and it divide in half. Turn one portion of dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and roll to a 28" X 10" rectangle. Spread half of the butter and half of the cinnamon mixture on the rolled out dough. Roll dough, jelly roll fashion, starting at the long side. Gently place dough roll, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bring ends of dough together and form an oval ring. If you have access to a tiny plastic baby, tuck it into the seam before you seal it. If not, use a large, dried bean. Moisten and pinch the edges together to seal.
Repeat this procedure with the second half of the dough.
Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 20 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
Bake at 375 º for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden. Decorate each cake with bands of colored frostings, and sprinkle with colored sugars.
Makes 2 cakes.
If you prefer to do it the easy way, make it in a bread machine... I did, and it works great. I just dissolve the yeast in warm water first, and dissolve the sugar, butter and salt in the scalded milk, let cool, and put in the machine. Eliminates all of that kneading. Some bread machines can't hold this large recipe, so you may want to use one of the recipes below. Just take it out as soon as it is mixed to rise.
NOTE: If you prefer, you can replace the cinnamon and sugar inside the roll of dough with a cream cheese filling or a pie filling in the flavor of your choice... just spread it thinly on the center of the rectangle before you roll it up. Popular flavors are blueberry, cherry, and lemon.
Recipe # 2
A Smaller Version - King Cake
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 t. salt
3 T. butter or margarine
1/4 c. warm water (105 - 115 degrees)
1 pkg. active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it steams; remove from heat. Add sugar, salt and butter, stiffing until butter is melted. Let cool to lukewarm. In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve.
Add egg and 1 1/2 cups flower; beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add the rest of the flour. Beat until the dough is smooth and leaves the side of the bowl.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured pastry cloth. Knead until dough is satiny and elastic and blisters appear on the surface.
Follow the rest of the instructions from the recipe above. If you want to use the cinnamon and sugar, just follow the ingredients & directions from the other recipe.
Cream Cheese Filling
1 8-oz. package cream cheese
1 c. confectioners sugar
2 T. flour
1 t. vanilla
drop or two of milk
Cream all ingredients together with an electric mixer. Spread on the rolled-out rectangle before rolling it into a ring. You can use cream cheese and a fruit filling if you so desire.
1 -1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 to 2 drops each of green, yellow, red and blue food coloring
Combine 1/2 cup sugar and a drop of green coloring in a jar. Place lid on jar, and shake vigorously to evenly mix the color with sugar. Repeat with each color, combining red and blue for purple.
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
3 T. butter of margarine, melted
3 to 5 T. milk
1/4 t. vanilla extract
1 to 2 drops each green, yellow, red, and blue food coloring
Combine powdered sugar and melted butter. Add milk (room temperature) to reach desired consistency for drizzling; stir in vanilla. Divide frosting into 3 batches, tinting one with green, one with yellow, and combining blue and red for purple frosting. Makes about 1 - 1/2 cups.
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