Tacoma pastry chef Odette D’Aniello is fresh from a trip to New Orleans and she’s not afraid to use her nearly learned pastry powers in whipping up king cakes, the official pastry of Mardi Gras.
I checked in with D’Aniello on how she’s making her king cakes at her Tacoma bakery, Celebrity Cake Studio. So many variations of the cake abound, it’s tough to describe exactly how a king cake should taste. They can be yeasty and fluffy or dense. They can be filled with nuts or cream cheese. They can be highfalutin affairs or a downscale quick bread. They can be frosted, glazed or dusted with sugar.
The unifying factor? The colors used to decorate the cake, usually green, purple and gold.
Here’s how D’Aniello is making hers:
Q: Can you explain king cakes to those who've never had one?
A: I didn't know much about them either but I had the opportunity to tour many large bakeries in New Orleans and Picayune last month and all were in the height of king cake season which starts on the day of the Epiphany Jan 6 (the cake for the Three Kings) to Fat Tuesday, which is the day before Lent. I learned that king cakes are a traditional dessert to mark Mardi Gras, which is the last day of feasting before Lent.
Q: King cakes can come in a wide range of textures and flavors. I remember eating one at a Mardi Gras party that was so dry, it crumbled on the plate at the nudge of a fork. What is the best style or kind of cake base to use for a king cake?
A: You're right, all the bakeries I went to used different types of yeast doughs for king cakes. Some use different doughs, others brioche or Danish. Some have fillings and others don't. The common denominator is that king cakes are decorated with the colors purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power. There is a little baby Jesus hidden in the cake, some are baked in and others are placed at the bottom. Others just lay them on top. Whoever gets the piece with the baby is blessed with good luck and therefore buys the king cake for the following year.
Q: What are you using as the hidden king trinket in the cake?
A: We have a 2-inch plastic baby that we do not bake in the cake. We place it on top and the customer can hide it underneath. Some bakeries in NOLA bake it into the filling which I found really interesting. We place it on top so that you can have a choice of hiding it or not.
Q: How are you making your king cakes? What do they taste like?
A: Our King Cake is made out of our family's sweet dough recipe. It tastes like cinnamon bread.
Q: In New Orleans, stuffing a king cake with cream cheese or some other filling is common. What do you think of fillings in a king cake? Will yours come filled with anything?
A: The king cakes I have had in New Orleans had pounds of filling and pounds of glaze and colored sugar on top. It was hardly edible to me as they were so sweet. Ours are lightly filled with cinnamon and sugar or raspberry preserves.The icing is light and so is the sugar. This is our first run with this so it'll evolve as we go. As for this year, we have a limited quantity to sell and only for a very limited time.