“A Feast In History: The Food of the Mid-Atlantic”

Preview from my up coming new cookbook 

“A Feast In History: The Food of the Mid-Atlantic”


Hoecakes and Honey

General Washington started each day with a breakfast of hoecakes as described by members of his family and guests. More than likely, Washington’s first mea1 of the day was prepared by the enslaved chef, Hercules Posey. Washington’s family loved Hercules’ cooking – Washington’s step-grandson described Hercules as one of the best chefs in America. Washington praised Hercules’ cooking so much the president was reportedly angered and surprised when Hercules escaped and sought his own freedom.This recipe is a modern adaptation of the 18th-century original recipe found among the letters of Nelly Parke Custis Lewis, Washington’s step-granddaughter.

Hoecakes Collage


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Galettes des rois



Photo Credit: Dominique Ansel Bakery, 2018


Starting in late December, pastry shops in Paris start jumping the gun, and windows and showcases begin filling up with Galettes des rois, or King Cakes, in anticipation of the celebration of Epiphany, held on January 6th.

 The French have been serving up galette des rois since the 14th-century. Traditionally, the  season of the galetter des rois begins on Twelfth Night and ends on Shrove Tuesday.  The cake is served on January 6th – the 12th day of Christmas – to celebrate the Epiphany, commemorating the arrival of the Wise Men, Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, who travelled  from the three continents, Asia, Africa and Europe, to the manger in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, to present their gifts.

Today, it’s eaten throughout the month of January and is simply a festive way to celebrate the new year with family and friends, regardless of religious background.

Composed of a puff pastry cake, with a small charm, the fève, hidden inside, it is usually filled with frangipane, a cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs and sugar. But more gourmet versions are available for us to enjoy, with chocolate, apple or candied fruits. Every year, the leading French pâtissiers offer exclusive creations for the tradition of crowning the one who finds the fève.

The Fève

Like many Christian festivals, the date of Epiphany corresponds to what was originally a pagan festival. In the past, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, the festival of the winter solstice, at which a king or queen was chosen for one day, by means of a  fèves : a white or black bean baked inside a loaf of bread and the person who found the bean was crowned king for the day.

The item baked into the cake is called a fève, which means “bean”, a broad bean to be exact, which was the original king selector. In the 18th century, the fève was a porcelain figurine representing the nativity, in particular, the Baby Jesus. At the end of the 19th century, the beans were replaced by porcelain figurines. Even though the trinkets in the cake are no longer beans, they are still called fèves. They might be tiny santons (nativity figures), cartoon characters, or any number of other things. There are collectors of these fèves and even a fève museum.

Galette des Rois - 3 feves
If you are lucky, you might find a fève like one of these in your slice of cake.

Today, the fèves get more and more creative as well: some boulangeries (bakeries) create special collections of fèves depicting modern themes from great works of art, to classic movie stars, or even popular cartoon characters. Naturally, if you are making your own galette, you will  need to buy your own fève, which can be bought here: http://www.fevesdumonde.com.

Nowadays there is a wide range of different fèves which are much sought-after by collectors. The family tradition is for everyone to gather together to cut the famous cake. The youngest child goes under the table and points out the guests, who are then given their portion of the cake. A cardboard crown is supplied with the cake. The one who finds the fève is crowned and chooses his or her queen or king.

The Christian church changed the solstice celebration to the Epiphany and fixed the date as the 6th of January. With the “king for a day” theme already established, it became the time to remember the kings who presented gifts to the baby Jesus. Over the years, the bean-in-the-bread turned into a bean-in-the-cake and became known as the galette des rois, “cake of the kings”.

Cake vs. Pie

In 16th century Paris, this king cake was at the center of a conflict between the boulangeries (bakeries) and the patisseries (cake shops). They each wanted the sole rights to make and sell it. The cake shops won, but the bakeries weren’t about to give up so easily. If they were forbidden to make king cakes, then they would make king pies. And this is why  there are two very  distinct versions of king cake today.

In the south of France,  you will be eating a circular  cake made of  a sweet brioche-style  dough with a hollow circle in the center. The cake is then  covered with a variety of  candied fruits.

In northern France, the galette des rois favored by most of the  French populous is  in its simple version that looks more like a pie made of a pâte feuilleté, flaky puff pastry,  filled with frangipane, a cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs and sugar. The galette is then decorated  with notches incised across the top of  it and browned in the oven.

It is said that frangipane was invented as  scent to perfume the leather gloves of King Louis XIII that were  made by a Florentine nobleman, the Marquis of Frangipani. Soon after Frangipani, living in France, released his fragrance made from bitter almonds to the public and  the local patisseries created a cream made with milk, sugar, flour, eggs, butter and ground almonds. They named it frangipane. Little could 16th century Frangipani, have guessed  that the  scent  would inspire pastry chefs for centuries to follow.

Other variations of the galette can be found as well, from shortbread-style, popular in Western France, to those that have alternate fillings, such as chocolat-poire (chocolate-pear) or raspberry. Abroad, the famous galette des rois has a lot of fans, notably at Belgian and Dutch tables. There are customs of eating king cakes  in a number of countries with the festival of Epiphany at the end of the Christmas season; in other places, such as New York, London and Berlin In New Orleans, Louisiana,   king cakes are  associated with the pre-Lenten celebrations of Mardi Gras and Carnival.

Modern Traditions

The cake with the fève is a long-standing tradition which is still very popular today. At January gatherings, when it is time to serve the cake, the youngest child gets under the table. Tradition also dictates that when serving galette des rois, the host or hostess cuts the entire cake  such that each guest receives a slice, plus an extra, symbolic slice for any unexpected visitor, or poor person, that should pass by. In this way, everyone has the opportunity to “tirer les rois,” – or “draw the kings” – from the cake. The  child is then asked by the host or hostess, “Who is this piece for?” The child calls out a name and the cake is distributed according to his instructions. This way there can be no cheating, as the child cannot see the fève and play favorites. Everyone chews their piece of cake very slowly, to avoid cracking a tooth, until the fève is found.

Whoever finds the fève becomes the king (or queen) for the day. They get to wear a paper crown which is supplied with the cake, if bought from a French bakery. The king’s  or queen’s responsibility is to bring another king cake to the next gathering – and that probably means the following week because the French eat these cakes during the entire month of January. This way everyone gets a chance to find the fève, wear the crown, and be king or queen of the party.

The Christian church changed the solstice celebration to the Epiphany and fixed the date as the 6th of January. With the “king for a day” theme already established, it became the time to remember the kings who presented gifts to the baby Jesus. Over the years, the bean-in-the-bread turned into a bean-in-the-cake and became known as the galette des rois, “cake of the kings”.

The pleasure brought by a galette des rois isn’t merely due to its delicious taste – it’s also the anticipation of wondering whether you will be the lucky one to discover la fève, a tiny charm, buried inside one of the slices. The good thing about making your  galette own is that you can customize the  almond filling, to your taste. So who will become king or queen for the day at your house? Bake a galette and have a little fun with the family. Make a foil or paper crown to place atop the cake before eating it (if you buy it at a bakery in France, they will provide the crown).

If you are lucky enough to find the fève, you’re “king for a day” and take your place in a 700-year old French tradition.

Serves 8 to 10

For the Almond filling:
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill® Almond Flour
½ cup granulated sugar
zest of 1/2 orange
⅛ teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons Finlandia® Butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons Courvoisier® Cognac (or rum)
teaspoon almond extract
teaspoon vanilla extract
2 sheets puff pastry
2-3 tablespoons apricot jam
1 whole almond, or small dried apricot fruit if desired (the fève)
Water, for sealing

For the Egg Wash:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon light cream

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, sugar, flour, orange zest and salt. Cut in the butter until incorporated. Stir in the egg, cognac almond extract, vanilla extract. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for up to 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the two pastry sheets to 10-inch squares. Using a pie plate or other round object, cut 2 10-inch circles.

Place one circle on your lined baking sheet. Spread the apricot jam in the center, leaving a 2 inch edge. Top with the chilled almond filling. Place the almond in the filling, if desired.

Brush water over the edge of the bottom circle. Top with the second pastry circle and pinch along the edge to seal.

To crimp, use your thumb and pointer finger together, pressing the back of a paring knife into the edge to create the crease. Continue around the entire tart.

Galette des Rois

Whisk together the egg yolk and cream. Brush over the entire tart. Decorate the tart by scoring the tart with a pairing knife to leave indentations.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before cutting.

King cakes of the type locally called “French style” on display at the chain bakery/restaurant “La Madeline” branch in Carrollton, New Orleans. Note they come with cardboard “crowns” to be worn by whoever gets the slice with the token and becomes monarch of the event.


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All photographs and content are copyright protected. Photography credits from other sources are noted were applicable. Please do not use these photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this photograph and all other contents, then we kindly ask that you link back to this site. We are eternally grateful and we appreciate your support of this blog.

Thank you so much!

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Happy Mardi Gras: The History of the King Cake

By Tori Avery

Tori’s Kitchen, 2014

King cake is an oval- or ring-shaped sweet yeast bread, sometimes containing a filling and typically decorated with vibrant purple, green, and gold sugar or icing. The roots of this fun treat hark back to Europe, but the current New Orleans version reflects numerous local modifications, rendering it a truly American cake.

Photo Credit: Tori’s Kitchen, 2014

The first light cakes in Europe made their way from medieval Moorish Spain to Renaissance Italy and from there eventually throughout Europe. The loose dough was baked in massive quantities in large wooden rings, each cake typically weighing six to twelve pounds. These treats were rich with white flour, butter, eggs, and imported sugar, dried fruit, and spices. Because the ingredients were expensive, these cakes were reserved for very special occasions, notably weddings, christenings, and Epiphany.
The Roman Catholic Church chose the twelfth day from December 25th as the Feast of the Epiphany (Greek for “appearance”), commemorating the magi -— magi were Zoroastrian priests (also the source of the word magic), but in Christian tradition came to mean “wise men” and sometimes mistakenly called “kings.” January 6th marks Twelfth Day and the evening of January 5th is Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night was celebrated with a host of customs, many dating back to the Saturnalia, including masquerades, clowning, social satires, and rowdy, frequently bawdy games. Among the most beloved and enduring Epiphany traditions was the special sweet yeast cake. Ancient Romans, during the Saturnalia festival, baked a fava bean, a symbol of fertility and the underworld, inside a ritual round barley bread. Around the end of the 14th century, this practice was readopted in Italy for the new Twelfth Night cakes. Whoever found the bean in their portion was supposedly assured of good luck for the coming year. The notion of “king,” derived from the token-finder and associated with the magi, gave rise to a special name for the bread – three kings cake or kings’ cake.
French and Spanish settlers (Creoles) brought to the Louisiana area their cuisines and holiday customs, eventually applied to the entire period from Epiphany through Mardi Gras. The last day before Lent, the forty-day season leading up to Easter, is Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday” in French), known as Shrove Tuesday and Pancake Day in England and Martedi Grasso and Carnevale (probably “removal of meat”) in Italy. The date of Mardi Gras is determined by the lunar calendar and can occur anywhere from early February to early March. As it emerged in 13th century Italy, Carnevale — reflecting origins in ancient pagan spring fertility rites, notably the Roman circus-like Lupercalia and Bacchanalia — assumed an air of ritualized chaos, revelry, buffoonery, games, processions, masks, feasting, drinking, and sensuality.
The first official krewe (Carnival society), Mistick Krewe of Comus, was founded in 1857, which also staged the first organized and themed parade with floats, transforming Mardi Gras in New Orleans into a more controlled and safer environment. In 1872, the Rex Krewe adopted symbolic colors, those of Russia’s Romanov dynasty, for the festival -— purple (for justice), green (for faith), and gold (for power) — becoming the official colors of Mardi Gras. In 1875, Louisiana declared Mardi Gras a state holiday.
The name of gâteau des Rois eventually Anglicized to “king’s cake” or more commonly “king cake,” while the cake itself as well as its usage also changed. King cake in New Orleans, instead of noting the end of the Christmas season and limited to January 6 alone, marked the onset of Carnival and extended revelry. On every weekend from January 6th through Mardi Gras, groups, both small and massive, throughout the city held balls and parties, with king cake as the star — a pecan half sometimes substituted for the bean. Whoever found the token in their slice became king or queen and expected to throw the party or buy the cake for the following week. Following the French innovation, local New Orleans bakeries introduced various charms as the token for their king cakes. In the 1950s, small imported porcelain baby dolls from Hong Kong became a popular substitute for the bean -– according to local lore the result of a store purchasing too large of an order. When these proved a bit pricey, a 1-inch plastic doll was substituted –- today commonly inserted into the cake or arranged on top after baking. King cake is almost exclusively purchased from commercial enterprises and rarely homemade.
In 20th century New Orleans, a smaller braided oval or ring-shaped version of king cake about three-inches high, reminiscent of a bejeweled crown, became more prevalent. Formerly, the top of king cakes were bare or decorated with coarse sugar or dragees. More recently, the English-style icing became prominent. In addition, bakers began to sprinkle colored sugar (it adds a crunch) over the icing or tint the icing with the traditional purple, green, and gold hues. Beginning in 1972, an increasing number of bakers began filling king cakes with cinnamon-sugar -– transforming it into a large cinnamon roll. Other prevalent filling flavors followed, including almond paste, apple, chocolate, cream cheese (the most popular), lemon, and praline. A “Zulu king cake” — inspired by the Krewe of Zulu, famous since 1910 for passing out coconuts from their floats — features coconut cream filling (or cream cheese mixed with grated coconut) and dark chocolate icing.
The original gâteau des Rois has a more pronounced flavor of egg, a drier and lighter texture, and is less sweet (and, of course, lacks a filling). Modern king cake dough typically incorporates a little more sugar and less butter and eggs than standard brioche, resulting in a slightly firmer dough –- capable of holding a shape and filling — and moister bread. The amount of ingredients in the dough and fillings and the type and quantity of icing embellishment all differ from bakery to bakery. The size widely varies. Several fast food franchises offer individual serving sized king cakes (basically a cinnamon roll).
Only in the 1960s did king cake — with the growing repute and economic significance of Mardi Gras and the cake receiving exposure on television commercials and newspaper articles — shift from being an upper class ball extravagance to a treat enjoyed on a wide scale by every element of southern Louisiana society. In 1989, a local bakery shipped 400 king cakes (the newer filled type) to food critics across America, engendering a wave of national publicity and interest. King cake was no longer only a local treat.
Each year, just in time for January 6th, these sweet breads suddenly appear in bakeries, doughnut shops, and groceries in southwest Louisiana, churned out in mass numbers and swiftly and repeatedly purchased -— and numerous more shipped throughout the United States. For the following weeks through Mardi Gras, king cake remains a staple in the region, ubiquitous at parties, workplaces, schools, and assorted gatherings. Then, just as abruptly as they arrive, at the end of Carnival season king cakes vanish from the stores, not to be offered again until the following Twelfth Night.
A traditional recipe and history for King Cake from food historian Gil Marks on The History Kitchen

Photo Credit: Tori’s Kitchen, 2014

In order to extend the season (and sales), some bakeries recently began offering king cakes with alternate icing tints for other occasions: Red and green for Christmas; red and pink for Valentine’s Day; green and white for St. Patrick’s Day; orange and black for Halloween; and school colors during college football season. King cake makes a tasty and merry (if a bit garish) coffeecake any time of the year.

For the recipe for a traditional King cake, click here for the link.

Source: http://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/2014/03/king-cake-recipe-history/