Mardi Gras King Cake

Who knew??? [ok, probably a lot of you did. But it was news to me!]
History of the Mardi Gras King Cake
Twelfth Night is when the coming of the wise men
bearing gifts to the Christ Child is celebrated. 
This celebration is called Ephipany, Little 
Christmas, or the Twelfth Night. One of the most
popular customs in this celebration of giving gifts is the
baking of a special cake in honor of the three kings -
a King's Cake. 
Hidden inside the cake is either a bean or plastic baby. 
The tiny plastic baby represents the Christ Child. 
The person receiving it must portray one of the kings. 
It was originally served only on January 6th (Twelfth
Night), but is now celebrated starting on the
twelfth night after Christmas and continues through Mardi Gras, 
the day before Ash Wednesday (when the Lenten season begins) 
which is throughout the entire carnival season. 
It is said that the lucky person who gets the baby will
have good fortune for the year. The recipient then
continues the festivities by having another party or
bringing another cake the following year. In the U.S., cakes are brought
to offices, school, meetings and parties, and
the person finding the baby in their piece must bring a
king cake the next year. 
The first cakes were a simple ring of dough with little
decoration. The New Orleans-style cake is brightly
decorated with Mardi Gras colored sugars and icing and
pieces of fruit with cinnamon inside, pecans, 
cream cheese, or any assortment of fruit fillings. 
Prep Time:1 Hr
Cook Time: 30 Min
Ready In: 4 Hrs 30 Min
Original Recipe Yield: 2 cakes

1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast [3 tsp]
2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5 - 5.5 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup chopped pecans
*optional* 1/2 cup raisins
2-3 TB melted butter or margarine 

1 cup confectioners sugar
2 TB milk
2 TB softened butter

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Scald milk, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Lightly oil [ I used Pam spray] a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). 

Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
To Make Filling: Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.
Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10x16 inches or so). Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 oval shaped rings. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Bake in preheated oven for 18-25 minutes [Until lightly golden and hollow sounding when you tap on it]. Push the doll or dried bean, or pecan half — or almond [which is what I use] into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm [not hot] . Sprinkle with Purple, Gold and Green sugars.

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