Marshes to Mansions


I did not make my King Cake until Fat Tuesday this year, and have been busy with other things since, so I apologize for posting this recipe well into Lent.  Put it on your docket for Mardi Gras ’11, I suppose.

I’ve made King Cake before, but haven’t been 100% happy with the recipes I’ve come across in the past, so this is the one I’ve pieced together from an amalgam of sources, one of them being the Junior League of Lake Charles‘s Marshes to Mansions.  While theirs is a winner, I did not feel it had quite enough butter and eggs in it for my purposes.  Also, if you’ve had King Cake before, you know it can tend towards being dry.  You will not have that problem with this recipe.

King Cake

King Cake

2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 c lukewarm water
1/2 c sugar + 2 t. sugar
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 c unsifted flour
1 t nutmeg
2 t salt
1 T fresh lemon peel
1/2 c lukewarm milk
5 egg yolks, at room temperature
8 T butter, at room temperature, + 2 T melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 T. cinnamon
1 egg
splash of milk
Stuff to hide in cake: a plastic baby is traditional, but a dried bean will do in a pinch

Icing:

3 c powdered sugar
1/4 c strained fresh lemon juice
3-6 T water

Sugars:

3/4 cup sugar, divided into three bowls
4-5 drops each, purple, yellow, and green food coloring

Dissolve yeast in the warm water with 2 t. of sugar. Allow to stand for 10 minutes to proof. Sift 3 1/2 cups flour with remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt. Stir in lemon peel, yeast mixture, milk, and egg yolks Beat until dough begins to pull away from edges of the bowl. Beat in 8 T. of butter cut into bits, a little bit at a time. Mix until all ingredients are well-combined. Knead 5-10 minutes on a lightly floured surface, adding more flour if dough is too sticky. Form dough into a ball, and place in a lightly greased bowl. Set in a warm, draft-free place, and allow to rise, loosely covered, for 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in bulk.

Punch down the dough and roll it out into a long rectangle. Brush with melted butter. Combine sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle over the melted butter. Roll the dough up jelly roll style, starting with the long side of the rectangle. Form the roll into a ring, sealing the ends, and place seam-side down on a buttered cookie sheet. Let rise, loosely covered with waxed paper, for about 45 minutes.

I have never been any good at sealing the ends up prettily.

Whisk egg and milk together, and brush over the King Cake. Bake at 375 until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. If you’re using a dried bean for the prize inside the cake, insert it in the bottom of the cake before baking. If you’re using a plastic baby, add it after the cake is baked.

Who's the king? This guy.

To make the icing, whisk the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and water until the icing mixture is smooth. Start with 3 T., and add more if it is too stiff.

To make the sugars for topping, add 4-5 drops of food coloring to each bowl of sugar. Rub the food coloring into the sugar with the back of a spoon until there are no lumps and color is evenly distributed.

Allow the King Cake to cool for at least 20 minutes or more. While it is still slightly warm, spread the icing over the cake. Sprinkle the different colored sugars in stripes over the icing before it hardens.

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In light of my new True Blood addiction and tonight’s season finale, I decided to cook a meal this week from four different Louisiana Junior League cookbooks:  Shreveport (home of the unfortunately-named vampire bar, Fangtasia), New Orleans, Lake Charles, and Lafayette (both a fine city and a sassy, if shell-shocked, drag queen).

Unfortunately, I can only post three of them as, much to my annoyance, I seem to have misplaced the Junior League of Lake Charles’s Marshes to Mansions at present.  I’ll come back and add it in later, but in the meantime, I give you Oysters en Brochette.

oysters2

Brady and I started the day with a trip to the fish market because Ralph’s or Whole Foods was simply not going to cut it.  This is because of roux, a slowly cooked mixture of flour and olive oil or butter that is the heart and soul of Cajun and Creole cooking.  It takes at least 45 minutes (and often longer) of constant tending to make a nice, brown, flavorful roux.  Take your eyes off it for a second, and it will burn.  No self-respecting person is going to spend an hour on roux, and then toss some frozen whitefish into the pot with it, so spring for the best, freshest fish you can lay hands on.

The main dish, courtbouillon, comes from the Junior League of Shreveport’s A Cook’s Tour of Shreveport (1964).   A courtbouillon is a rich, complex, roux-based fish soup made with herbs, vegetables, and wine.  I was most grateful to have Brady, a genuine, born and raised, Gulf Coast fella, in the kitchen helping me out by tending to the roux while I chopped and grated about a million vegetables.

Fish Courtbouillon

Fish Courtbouillon

Fish Courtbouillon

6 pounds red fish, cut in pieces of about 4 ounces each
2 cups flour
1/2 cup pure olive oil
1/4 pound butter
4 pounds onions
1 bunch celery
1 head garlic
2 sweet peppers
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch onion tops
1 6-ounce can imported tomato paste
1 can tomato sauce
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 lemon (four large slices)
2 (or 3) cups claret wine
Salt and red pepper to taste
Hot water
5 bay leaves

Make flour and olive oil roux. When well browned, add butter. When this is well browned, add onions, celery, sweet peppers and garlic which have been ground together. Add tomato paste and tomato sauce. Stir constantly throughout these steps to prevent burning.

courtbouillon1

Add about 3 quarts hot water. You may now add the following all at the same time: chopped parsley, cut-up onion tops, lemon, bay leaves, claret wine, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and about a spoonful of thyme if you have it. Let this cook slowly about 30 minutes. Add fish and it will be ready to serve in about 20 minutes. Cut large slices fresh French bread and serve with a bottle of imported white wine (chilled).

— Mrs. E.C. St. Martin

For a vegetable side dish, I turned to the Junior League of New Orleans’s Jambalaya (1980).

Tomatoes Provencale

Tomatoes Provencale

Tomatoes Provencale

6 large tomatoes
1 T. salt
3/4 t. black pepper
3/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. fresh minced parsley
1/2 cup finely grated Romano or Swiss cheese
1/4 t. oregano
4 T. butter, melted

Remove tops of tomatoes and scoop out about 2 tablespoons of pulp. Season tomatoes with salt and pepper; set aside.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, cheese, and oregano. Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Place a generous amount of the bread crumb mixture into each tomato. Place tomatoes in a 2-quart baking dish and pour melted butter on top of each. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour, basting twice.

I opted for the Romano cheese, which is a bit less melty than Swiss, so the filling was drier than I would have liked.  However, when we reheated the leftover tomatoes the next night, they were much more moist, though still crispy on top.  If you’re making these, it might not hurt to add a couple of tablespoons of water or melted butter to the bread crumb mixture before spooning it into the tomatoes.

Finally, for dessert, I made that southern classic, Pecan Pie, from the Junior League of Lafayette’s Talk About Good II (1979).  Though this recipe calls for pecan pieces mixed right in with the filling, I decided to do it a la Sookie’s Gran on True Blood, with pecan halves arranged in concentric circles.  While this certainly makes the pie more difficult to cut, it is also very pretty.

Mama’s Pecan Pie

Mama's Pecan Pie (unbaked)

Mama's Pecan Pie (unbaked)

3 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
dash salt
1 cup dark Karo syrup
1/3 cup melted margarine
1 cup pecans
1 unbaked pie shell

Beat eggs well by hand. Add remaining ingredients. Bake in pie shell at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until a knife remains clean when inserted 1/4 way into the pie.

— Hilda K. Walker

In all its glory

In all its glory

It’s a simple recipe. In the time it took Brady to run to the butcher a few blocks away and back, I’d made the pie crust, the filling, arranged the pecans on top, and popped it in the oven. Still, when we took the first bite, I said (and in more of a stunned than a bragging way), “I think this is one of the best pies I’ve ever made.” Brady, who has over the past decade eaten more of my pies than I can count, agreed.

Recipes for pecan pie are like recipes for lasagna or chili – everybody has their own special way of turning out basically the same dish. However, if you have not yet adopted your pecan pie recipe of choice, may I suggest Mama’s?

It was a pretty rich, unhealthy meal this week – I don’t even want to think about how much butter went into it.  As I learned from an old episode of King of the Hill, “The Louisiana diet will kill a man as surely as the sword.”

Fair enough.  But it’s a very tasty sword.

marshes to mansionsWhile I’m cooking or doing chores, I like to have a little nonsense on in the background.  I watched half a season of Mad Men while making mole, I’ve been known to catch up on a week’s worth of The Daily Show while cleaning the kitchen, and you don’t even want to know how many episodes of Top Chef I have devoured during the cooking of these Junior League meals (all the while fantasizing about competing in a “home chef” season of the show, and even in my fantasies, getting sent home, like, third or something, after Tom Colicchio tells me he’s disappointed in my presentation).

But it wasn’t until last week, during an epic and overdue round of spring cleaning, that I truly succumbed to the trashy.  Not philandering ad executives-trashy, or Seth and Summer and Ryan and Marissa-trashy, or even Temptation Island-trashy.  I’m talking rural Louisiana, goth vampires, serial murders, exorcisms, and a local history organization called the Descendents of the Glorious Dead.

After six episodes of True Blood, the apartment was sparkling, and I was addicted to the V.

As the finale of the second season airs this Sunday, I thought this might be a good time to turn my culinary attentions towards the fair state of Louisiana.

jambalaya cookbookNow, the only reason I’ve put off a state with so many Junior Leagues for so long is simply because I couldn’t choose between them.  Of course, there’s River Road Recipes from Baton Rouge, which is probably more famous than any other Junior League cookbook with the possible exception of Charleston Receipts (the oldest Junior League cookbook still in print).  And rightfully so.  But then, there are the Junior Leagues of New Orleans, Lafayette, Lake Charles, and Shreveport, all too good to leave out.

And so I decided not to.

This week, I’ll be cooking a meal with recipes from the following cookbooks:

Talk About Good IIThe Junior League of Lafayette
Marshes to Mansions: The Junior League of Lake Charles
A Cook’s Tour of Shreveport: The Junior League of Shreveport
Jambalaya: The Junior League of New Orleans

Will I be making a pecan pie with the pecans arranged in pretty concentric circles on top like Sookie’s Gram used to make?  You betcha.  And I plan to get up at 6 in the morning, (on my day off, no less), so I can get to the fish market and buy some oysters.

As for River Road Recipes, it will get its own menu sometime in the future.  After all, that’s the book that taught me how to bake biscuits.  And that’s a very special day in a Yankee girl’s life.

Now, I have to get back to my stories.  That vampire soap opera is not going to watch itself.

View recipes and photos from these Louisiana Junior Leagues (Fish Courtbouillon, Tomatoes Provencale, Mama’s Pecan Pie)