With Lent comes Mardi Gras, and with Fat Tuesday comes all those little plastic babies tucked away in king cakes.
If you want to make your own king cake — Mardi Gras falls on Feb. 25 this year — let’s turn to Ann Maloney, the former food editor at the Times-Picayune who now works as the recipes editor at the Washington Post. She suggests buying plastic king cake babies and the purple, green and gold sanding sugars online, but you can also find them at party supply and specialty baking stores.
Lent and Mardi Gras also mark the unofficial start of crawfish season. Stuffed Cajun Meat Market in Northwest Austin is hosting crawfish boils on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from now until April, but they warn the mudbugs now will be smaller than the ones you’ll find in March and April. You’ll start to see crawfish for sale at other local markets soon.
In the meantime, don’t hesitate to use frozen crawfish meat for jambalaya or étouffée. This version comes from chef Justin Devillier’s “The New Orleans Kitchen,” which has recipes for every Cajun and Creole dish you can imagine.
You could also sneak crawfish into this Cajun potluck platter from “The Huckle & Goose Cookbook” which features shrimp, andouille sausage, corn and okra and is topped with a spicy bacon-jalapeño vinaigrette.
New Orleans King Cake
New Orleans-area grocery stores began selling and shipping cinnamon-flavored king cakes in the 1980s, making them more popular and readily available.
These days, however, cinnamon seems tame. New Orleans king cakes come in an ever-expanding array of styles and flavors, stuffed and plain. Chaya Conrad of Bywater Bakery in New Orleans makes more than 10,000 king cakes a year that are filled with an “ooey, gooey, butter schmear” — a light filling that goes inside of the cake before baking.
I used her tips and a recipe from Saveur to make a traditional brioche-style king cake that requires a bit of time to let the dough proof. Instead of using a traditional royal icing, I made a tangy buttermilk-yogurt glaze, which I now love and plan to use on other cakes as well.
In New Orleans and many other cities, small plastic babies, trinkets or fèves are tucked inside the cake after baking. When the cake is sliced, whoever “gets the baby” is supposed to host the next party. If you want to embrace this tradition, you can find plastic king cake babies — and the traditional purple, green and gold sugar crystals — online.
— Ann Maloney
For the dough:
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup water, heated to 115 degrees
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
For the filling:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and completely cooled to semisolid state
1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Finely grated zest from 1/2 large lemon (1/2 teaspoon)
For the decoration:
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons whole fat plain Greek yogurt
Finely grated zest from 1/2 large lemon (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon whole-fat buttermilk or milk, plus more as needed
Purple, green and gold sanding sugars (optional)
Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the yeast, 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar and 1/4 cup water on medium speed until the yeast dissolves, about 2 minutes. If necessary, whisk by hand to reach down deep into the bowl. Let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add the remaining granulated sugar, milk, light brown sugar and vanilla. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, lightly beat together the egg and egg yolk and add to the mixer bowl. Beat the mixture on low speed until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes.
Turn the mixer off and switch to the dough hook attachment. Add the flour and salt. Mix on medium speed until the dough just comes together, about 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Then, knead the dough for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the butter and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and all the butter is incorporated. The dough should begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl after about 6 minutes. If the dough does not pull away, use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl, forming the dough into a ball.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and place in a warm spot to rise until the dough has doubled in size, 1½ to 2 hours.
Make the filling: In a small bowl, combine the melted and cooled butter, softened cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest. Whisk until thoroughly combined. The filling should be glossy and easily spreadable.
Shape the cake: Punch down the dough. Place it on a heavily floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a large circle, 16 inches to 18 inches in diameter and 1/4-inch thick. Punch a hole in the center of the circle with your finger. Then widen the circle to about 3 inches. Using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, spread the filling evenly around the ring of dough, halfway between the outer edge and inner circle, leaving about a 1-inch border on each side.
Gradually fold the outside edge of the dough over the filling to meet the inner edge, continuing until the filling is covered, widening the center hole as you go. The hole should be about 8 inches wide when finished. Make sure the seams of the dough are well sealed by gently pinching the dough as needed. If necessary, dampen your fingers a bit and pinch to seal the dough. This prevents the filling from seeping out during baking.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place it next to the dough circle. Lift one end of the dough circle and place it on the sheet pan; then lift the other end onto the pan. Gently reform the dough into an oblong or rectangle on the pan, leaving at least an inch or two from the rim. Check to see that all seams remain sealed. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let it rest for 1 hour at room temperature until slightly puffed.
Half an hour before the cake finishes proofing, position the rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the towel from the cake. Bake until golden brown and dry to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes. Using the parchment paper, lift the cake from the sheet pan and move it to a wire rack. Let the cake cool completely before decorating, at least 1 hour.
While the cake is cooling, make the glaze. In a medium bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, yogurt, lemon zest and vanilla. Add the buttermilk or milk gradually, whisking until the glaze is smooth and fluid enough to drizzle over the cake. Add more liquid, 1 teaspoon at a time, as needed to achieve the proper consistency.
Line a serving platter with wax or parchment paper. Transfer the cake to the platter.
Drizzle the glaze generously onto the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Sprinkle the cake with the sanding sugars, alternating strips of purple, green and gold. Allow the glaze to set for about 10 minutes. Gently lift the decorated cake and slide it off the paper on to a platter. Slice and serve. Serves 12.
— Adapted from Saveur.com
Cajun Potluck Platter with Warm Bacon-Jalapeño Vinaigrette
This is truly an impressive potluck-worthy production and a sure ticket to every summer gathering.
1 cup farro
1½ tablespoons bacon fat or unsalted butter
2 jalapeños, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
3 bell peppers, sliced into 1-inch pieces or smaller
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups fresh corn kernels, from 4 ears of corn or (or 1 15-ounce can, drained)
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 pound andouille sausage, fully cooked
1 pint okra, thinly sliced into rounds or lengthwise strips
1 cup mixed fresh herbs:
Italian parsley, basil and summer savory, if you can find it
Cook farro like pasta; drain and set aside. For toasted farro, slide it under the broiler on a sheet pan for another 8 to 10 minutes, stirring halfway through.
Grab a sauté pan to make the vinaigrette and set over medium heat. Swirl in bacon fat, wait for it to get hot, then scrape in jalapeños, onion and scallions with a pinch of salt. Sauté until soft, then add garlic and cook another minute. Add Worcestershire, maple syrup, dried herbs, vinegar and 1/4 cup oil with another generous pinch of salt and some cracks of pepper. Turn off heat and stir to combine.
Combine toasted farro and vinaigrette in the pan; set aside.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. On a sheet pan, toss bell peppers with a drizzle of oil and salt and pepper. Spread out and roast for 20 minutes or until charred in some parts. Remove sheet pan, nudge the peppers to one side, and add tomatoes and corn, tossing with a little oil and salt and pepper. Roast for another 10 minutes. Transfer to pan with farro.
Meanwhile, prep shrimp and sausage. In a small bowl, toss shrimp with a drizzle of oil, spices, some pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Arrange on the now empty sheet pan, leaving just a tiny bit of space between them.
Cut sausage into 1/4-inch slices on the diagonal. Toss with a little oil in the same bowl you used for the shrimp and pile onto the sheet pan. It doesn’t have to be spread out or it’ll dry out.
In the space that’s left, toss the okra with a little oil, salt, and pepper, then spread it out a bit. Turn on the broiler and slide the pan in for 5 to 7 minutes, turning halfway through, until shrimp is opaque, okra is charred, and sausage is browned.
Toss everything right on the sheet pan or on your biggest platter, adding the fresh herbs, and serve. Serves 4 to 6.
— From “The Huckle & Goose Cookbook: 152 Recipes and Habits to Cook More, Stress Less, and Bring the Outside In” by Anca Toderic and Christine Lucaciu (Harper Wave, $29.99)
Étouffée is French for “smothered,” and it’s a classic Cajun dish from this region, almost always served over rice. I like to think of the smothering in two ways — you’re either smothering the fish or meat in a gravy-like sauce, or you’re smothering the rice itself. I think the French word sometimes throws people for a loop, but the truth is that this is a quick, one-pot stew that can feed a lot of people — nothing to be intimidated by.
As with most things, the success of your étouffée is directly related to the quality of your ingredients. Use domestically harvested Louisiana crawfish, if it’s in season, but frozen crawfish meat is OK, too.
For the roux:
2/3 cup peanut oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
For the étouffée:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced bell pepper
2 quarts shellfish stock
2 cups brown roux (store bought or homemade)
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons hot sauce (preferably Texas Pete’s or Crystal), plus more for serving
1 pound crawfish tail meat
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
1½ tablespoons kosher salt
2½ teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
Juice of 2 lemons
4 cups cooked rice
To make the roux: In a large heavy-bottom skillet, heat peanut oil over medium heat. Add flour, stirring often, and cook for 15 minutes until caramel color.
In a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt the butter until it has stopped steaming and is almost clear in color. Add the garlic and onion, which should immediately sizzle as they hit the pan. Stir until very lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes, then add the celery and bell pepper. Stir until the vegetables are wilted and sweat out most of their liquid, about 5 minutes.
Add the stock and bring to a boil over high heat.
Place the roux in a medium mixing bowl and whisk in about 3 cups of the hot liquid from the pot (avoid ladling out the vegetables as much as possible), working in 1 cup at a time, until the roux is fully dissolved. If the mixture looks too thick and viscous to pour, thin it with another ladle of liquid. Add the roux mixture back to the pot and whisk to combine. This two-step process helps make a sauce with a consistent, lump-free texture.
Add the bay leaves, paprika, thyme, Worcestershire and hot sauce to the pot and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 to 45 minutes, until all of the floury texture from the roux has cooked out and the sauce has a velvety-smooth texture. Skim any foam that forms on the top as the sauce simmers.
Stir in the crawfish meat and simmer for 5 minutes to heat through. Add the salt, pepper, parsley, and green onion. Stir to combine, then add the juice of 2 lemons, taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Serve over rice. Store étouffée in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Serves 6 to 8.
— From “The New Orleans Kitchen: Classic Recipes and Modern Techniques for an Unrivaled Cuisine” by Justin Devillier and Jamie Feldmar (Lorena Jones Books, $40)