06 January 2011

6 January - Epiphany; King Cake

Weather: the weather today indicates the weather of June.
Sunny, some overcast, warm.
Today we celebrate the manifestation - epiphania - of the glory of Our Lord on three separate occasions: the adoration of the Wise Men from the East; His Baptism, when the Voice from heaven proclaimed Him the Son of God; and His first recorded miracle of changing water into wine at the marriage at Cana. (The Golden Legend adds The Feeding of the Five Thousand as the fourth manifestation.)  All were believed to have happened on the same day, albeit in different years.

While originally, Our Lord's Baptism was considered the most important Theophany, in time the Adoration of the Magi took precedence; this day is also known in many cultures as the "Day of the Kings".

By the Middle Ages, the unnamed [and unnumbered] Wise Men had become Caspar or Jaspar, King of Tarsus, the land of myrrh, Melchior, King of Arabia, where the land is ruddy with gold, and Balthasar, King of Saba, where frankincense flows from the trees. The Hebrew version of their names was said to be Galgalath, Megalath, Tharath, and in Greek: Appelius, Amerius, Damascus.  Caspar was depicted as a beardless youth, Balthasar as a man in the prime of life, and Melchior as an old man with a long flowing beard.  They were also depicted representing three racial types: European, African, and Middle Eastern.

The custom of today is to bless the rooms of your house with holy water and use blessed chalk to inscribe 20 C + M + B 11 above the front door.
A young lady wishful to dream of her future husband should walk backward, throw a shoe over her left shoulder, and pray the Holy Kings to reveal him that night.
In honor of the Kings, make a KING CAKE.  A bean or a baby figure can be hidden inside - the one who finds the bean is the king of the celebration.  This same cake can be made and eaten throughout the Carnival season - but not past Shrove Tuesday!

There are, as usual, several recipes online to try.  This is the same sweet bread that I use for Pan de Muerto:

Heat 1/4 cup of milk to boiling, stirring to prevent curdling; remove from heat.  Stir in 1/4 cup of butter (cut into small pieces), 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Set aside and keep warm at about 110 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix 1 package of active dry yeast with 1/4 cup of warm water until dissolved; let stand 5 minutes.  Slowly stir in warm milk mixture until well blended.

Separate 1 egg; save white for another use.  Add the yolk and 1 whole egg to the milk/yeast mixture, then add 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time, mixing well with each addition.  Turn out the dough onto a floured surface.  Knead dough until smooth.  Grease a large bowl. Place dough in the bowl, turn over to coat entire ball of dough with oil; cover with a dish towel, and let rise in a warm place until double, about 90 minutes. Grease a baking sheet.

Punch down dough, and turn out again onto a floured surface.  Knead until smooth.  Divide dough into thirds.  Roll each third into a rope.  Pinch one end of the three ropes together; braid them, form the braided dough into a circle and pinch the opposite ends together.  Place the circle on the greased baking sheet.  Insert an almond, pecan half, dried bean, or ceramic baby figure into the dough so that it can't be seen.   Cover loaf with a dishtowel and let rise for about 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.   Bake for about 35 minutes.

Mix 1 cup of confectioner's sugar with 1 tablespoon of water (add another tablespoon of water if needed to make frosting thin).  Either glaze the cake with frosting, and sprinkle colored sugars in sections on the top (green, gold, and purple are traditional) or divide the frosting into 3 parts and tint each part with food coloring, then glaze the cake, with one color to a section.