I have always had a love of affair with the city of New Orleans. I have traveled there nearly ten times since my early 20’s: for work a few times, but more often, to visit our growing number of dear friends who live there. I love the warmth of the city, the vibrant culture and history, the music, and of course, the food.
While I enjoyed many delicious eats over my travels to the city, the first time I tasted a King Cake was three years ago, just a few months before our daughter was born. I was seven and a half months pregnant, waddling around Mardi Gras with an enormous protruding stomach, enjoying every moment, especially all the food. To welcome us to the Mardi Gras festivities, our dear friend Melanie arrived with a beautiful, colorful King Cake from Cake Cafe. This was no ordinary King Cake – it was stuffed with goat cheese and apples, and it was one of the best treats I have ever enjoyed. So much so that each year since, my husband longs to have another one, but there is just nothing comparable in the New York area.
For those not familiar with a King Cake, it is a Christian tradition that marks Kings Day (when the three kings brought gifts to baby Jesus) and so a small baby Jesus is traditionally baked inside a King Cake. It also marks the coming of Mardi Gras season in New Orleans, when it’s commnon to encounter many varieties of King Cake throughout the city between early January and Mardi Gras itself.
A King Cake should also not be confused with The King’s Cake, or a galette des rois, a beautiful French pastry that, to me, tastes like an enormous, buttery almond croissant. You may see it in your local bakery topped literally with a crown. It is absolutely delicious as well, but different from a King Cake. A King Cake in its modern form tastes most closely to a cheese danish or Entenmann’s coffee cake.
So what is a challah queen like me supposed to do with a love of King Cake, but no quality one available? Make a king cake challah of course.
I flavored the dough with some traditional king cake flavors, such as cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest. But the most fun parts of this challah creation are the icing and the colorful sprinkles. Gold, purple and green are the colors of Mardi Gras, and are the distinguishing factor between merely a round cheese danish, and a King Cake for Mardi Gras.
I didn’t bake a baby Jesus in the challah of course, but it would be perfect with a cup of coffee in the late afternoon. Or for breakfast, who am I to judge how you start your day? And while it won’t ever be the same as the amazing version from our time in New Orleans, at least it brought back some fond memories of New Orleans and our dear friends who welcome us back time and time again.
1 ½ Tbsp dry active yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 ¼ cup lukewarm water
4.5-5 cups of all-purpose, unbleached flour (preferably King Arthur flour)
½ Tbsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp fresh lemon zest
¼ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs + 1 egg for egg wash
1 cup powdered sugar
3 Tbsp milk or almond milk (more if needed)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp fresh lemon zest
Gold, green and purple sprinkles for decorating
In a small bowl, place yeast, 1 tsp sugar and lukewarm water. Allow to sit around 10 minutes, until it becomes foamy on top.
In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together 1 ½ cups flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon zest and sugar. After the water-yeast mixture has become foamy, add to flour mixture along with oil. Mix thoroughly.
Add another 1 cup of flour and 2 eggs and mix until smooth. Switch to the dough hook attachment if you are using a stand mixer.
Add another 1 ½- 2 cups of flour, mixing thoroughly and then remove from bowl and place on a floured surface. Knead remaining ½ cup flour into dough, continuing to knead for around 5 minutes.
Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with damp towel. Allow to rise at least around 3 hours, punching down at least once if possible.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Split dough into three even pieces and form into three long snake shapes. Braid challah and form into a circle, pinching the end tight. Place on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet.
Allow challah to rise another 45-60 minutes, or until you can see the size has grown and challah seems light. This step is very important to ensure a light and fluffy challah.
In a small bowl beat 1 egg lightly for the egg wash.
Brush egg wash liberally over challah.
If making one large challah, bake around 27-28 minutes.
While challah is baking, whisk together milk, powdered sugar, vanilla and lemon zest for the glaze.
After the challah has cooled out of the oven for around 20-30 minutes, glaze challah covering as much surface as you can. Immediately cover with sprinkles in a decorative pattern. Allow to dry before serving.
New Orleans is one of the most exciting culinary cities in the U.S, and one of the most difficult if you are trying to keep some kind of kosher. Yes yes – Café Du Monde is certified kosher – fantastic. But other than that, the kosher options in New Orleans are limited, and eating kosher-style can be a real challenge.
Nevertheless, if you have a sweet tooth like me NOLA is a true dessert-lovers heaven. My husband and I just returned from celebrating Mardi Gras with some New Orleans natives, and I sure ate my weight in dessert.
Our first stop Friday morning, before the tourists really started pouring in was indeed the iconic Café Du Monde for café au lait and beignets, which followed closely with a second sweet breakfast of King Cake.
Our first King Cake of the Mardi Gras holiday was a goat cheese and pear King Cake from the Cake Cafe. I described the taste of this treat as “like, the best Entemanns ever!” This particular King Cake was sweet, moist and a truly unique treat, far surpassing the rest of the King Cakes I sampled throughout our long weekend.
And if you’re wondering, what do the Jews do during Mardi Gras? Well they celebrate right alongside the rest of the city, and I had one of my many tastes of King Cake at a celebration hosted by Touro Synagogue in the heart of it all on St. Charles Avenue.
Our first dinner found us at the Uptown eatery, Boucherie, where the table sampled a variety of desserts including everyone’s favorite, the Krispy Kreme bread pudding – a dessert Paula Deen would surely squeal over. However, my personal favorite was the Thai Chili Chocolate Chess Pie – sweet and spicy without being overly saccharin.
I’m a notorious early riser, and Sunday morning found me parked at Laurel Street Bakery with a cup of coffee, magazine and a sweet cinnamon bun.
Lunchtime came, and it was time to visit Camellia Grill. Camelia Grill is best known for their omelets, hamburgers and the hilarious antics from the chefs and servers, but what I savored most at the legendary New Orleans-style diner was the Chocolate Freeze – a chocolate milk shake, thick enough so you know its not good for you, but not too thick that you need a spoon to eat it. Another favorite at Camellia Grill is the chocolate cherry freeze.
Most visits to New Orleans finds me at the downtown Café Adelaide, where the white chocolate bread pudding is one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. This visit I wasn’t able to make it, but I wouldn’t leave it off my list of my favorite desserts. If you make it to Cafe Adelaide, you must either try their signature Swizzle Stick drink, or their Bloody Mary, which is garnished with enough pickled okra, string beans and olives to qualify as its own meal.
While I didn’t get my usual white chocolate bread pudding, I did get to try the homemade pop tarts at Velvet Espresso Bar, a tiny coffee shop and café in Uptown New Orleans. I was lucky to snag the last pop tart on Monday morning and boy am I glad that I did – the pastry was absolutely perfection, with a strawberry filling and sugary glaze. Gourmet comfort food at its finest, Velvet is also pumping out homemade scones and “tea cakes.”
Our last stop this trip was Clancys, where the dessert menu sounded so tempting, I almost ordered three! We settled on the peppermint ice cream brownie sundae, and the biggest dessert winner of all, the Budino – a butterscotch bread pudding with caramel sauce, sea salt and fresh whipped cream.
I can’t wait for our next trip down and the culinary treats that await. Hope you can find yourself down there as well to taste, if nothing else, the sweetest parts of New Orleans.