I sat with my husband at the small corner table of our neighborhood Indian restaurant this past Friday and poked at my Pork Vindaloo. MM, who knows me well enough to know I don’t usually poke at my food, leaned over to me and asked, “What’s going on babe? You seem glum.”
“No, no, I’m fine,” I lied.
But he was right. I was glum. I couldn’t help but look back on the last several months of gatherings, visitors, holidays, celebrations, parties, and birthdays and feel just a bit of what we call the “birthday blues.” That feeling when you realize so many fun things are behind you and you can’t seem to get excited over anything that lies ahead. It was as if someone had put blinders on either side of my mental forecasting and the only thing within vision was work. Followed by more work. Where’s all the fun?!
I tried to feign cheerfulness for another minute or two before I had to come out with it. I’m the absolute worst when it comes to not articulating my feelings. “I guess I’m just feeling a little bit of the birthday blues. It’s like we had so many things to celebrate and now…” My voice trailed off.
He dropped the samosa he was about to bite into, looked up at me, and let out a sweet laugh, seeming totally unfazed by my moodiness. “Well cheer up. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned about you over the years, it’s that you will never run out of reasons to celebrate.”
I thought about his words for a minute and felt a smile start to slowly creep across my face too. He was totally and completely right. We might not greet all of those fancy formal holidays again for another 10 months, but as far as I’m concerned there is no such thing as a shortage of things to celebrate.
Like Mardi Gras. Actually, it’s more like: MARDI GRAS!!!! One of my favorite holidays of the whole year. It’s different now that we don’t live in New Orleans anymore, but I always make a king cake (or four) so we don’t feel left out of all the fun. (Our friends back home are completely heartless when it comes to posting pictures of king cakes, parades, and other colorful, beer-bolstered street shenanigans on their social media. Jerks 😉 )
My mood shifted considerably as I soon began to digest what this realization meant. It meant that this was the weekend that I’d get to prepare the decadent king cake, which had involved weeks of planning and testing, on C+M. I’d first conceived of the cake I wanted to bake on January 6th, when Mardi Gras Season (aka, King Cake Season) officially began. This year, I wanted to put a little bit of a twist on the classic cake and resolved to somehow incorporate a cardamom and almond pairing. But I’d been going back and forth about precisely how to involve the cardamom and almond while staying true to the traditional king cake elements.
To test out my vision, I offered to make the cake for Lindsay, one of my best friends who is also from New Orleans, while I was in town visiting her in San Francisco. When I told her my vision for the cake and asked for her thoughts, she piped in with, “What if you added marzipan to it?” Marzipan? I’d never even considered it. Truth be told, I’d never cooked with marzipan before.
But I loved the idea of adding a creamy middle to the cake, much like the Cream Cheese King Cake that I made last year had. And after testing it out with her a few weeks ago, I can say: Marzipan + King Cake = Absolute Perfection. Thank you, my beautiful and brilliant friend!
So this weekend, I took grated marzipan with softened butter, almond extract, and vanilla extract and squeezed it between my hands until it had melded together. The white sticky paste oozed through each finger slowly and I reveled in the playful feeling, like a child giddy over their first experience with play dough, my earlier moodiness forgotten in the dark corner of our favorite Indian restaurant. I spread the marzipan mixture in a line along the edge of the cardamom-dotted rectangle of dough before rolling it all up into tube form and binding the dough ends together to form my circular cake.
Once golden and baked through, I decorated cake in traditional form, spreading thick white icing over its top before sprinkling it with the trio of purple, green, and gold sugars in an alternating pattern. And then, I sliced in. As I tugged on the first slice, warm, now gooey, marzipan seeped out. The cake, which itself is akin to a cinnamon roll in taste and texture, bathed in a puddle of the white nutty cream, which it seemed to wear with pride.
I looked back on my former moodiness as I ate my cake, laughing at the mini pity party I had thrown myself earlier in the weekend. Much like Mardi Gras itself, this is a cake made for celebrations. A cake worth celebrating. And of course there would be many more things to celebrate in the future, even after this sweet almond goodness is gone.
So, with that said, what are we celebrating next? No, but really…
PS: Check out the cutie who wandered oh-so innocently into my shot while I was pouring the icing. So hopeful, my little brown furball!
- 1 cup of granulated sugar, divided into 3 equal parts
- food coloring (purple, yellow, and green)
- 1 cup of half and half
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- ⅓ cup of granulated sugar
- 8 tablespoons of butter
- 1.5 teaspoons of salt
- 1 7-oz container of plain greek yogurt
- 4.5 teaspoons of active dry yeast
- ½ cup of warm water
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 cups of bread flour and 3 cups of all purpose flour (plus 1-2 cups more if necessary), mixed together and then divided into 2 parts (1:2 ratio)
- 1 egg, beaten for brushing over the dough
- 7 ounces of marzipan, grated
- 4 tablespoons of butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon of almond extract
- 8 tablespoons of butter, softened
- ½ cup of brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom seeds, seeds from about 10-12 pods
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- 2-3 cups of powdered sugar
- ¼ cup of half-and-half, plus more to thin out if desired
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
- Pour each ⅓ cup of sugar into a small tupperware container. Add purple food coloring to one, green to another, and yellow to another. I used about 10 drops per container, but this will vary depending on what brand of coloring you’re using. Just do it 3-5 drops at a time until it reaches your desired color. With lid on, shake vigorously until all wet drops of food coloring have incorporated into the sugar. Let rest (with top off) to dry while you prepare the rest of the cake.
- Combine the half-and-half, baking soda, sugar, butter, and salt in a large saucepan and heat over low, stirring frequently. Once butter has melted into the other ingredients, add the yogurt, stir to incorporate, and then set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the cake ingredients.
- In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in ½ cup of warm water. Set aside and allow to rest in a warm place (at least 72 degrees F) for about 10 minutes.
- Once it’s proofed, pour it into a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer along with the half-and-half mixture, 2 eggs, and ⅓ of the flour mixture (2 cups). Beat at medium speed until blended. Add the next ⅓ of the flour mixture and beat again at medium speed. Add the final ⅓ of the flour mixture, beating at medium speed until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl. If it’s not yet pulling away, add more flour, a bit at a time, until you notice it begin to pull.
- Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5-10 minutes, or until it becomes smooth. Let it rest in a butter-greased bowl that is covered with a warm damp paper towel for 1 hour. Again, make sure it’s in a warm enough place (at least 72 degrees F) so that it will rise properly.
- While the dough is rising, make the almond filling. The marzipan is a bit hard and while you’ll likely be able to grate most of it with a microplane, you may need to just tear some of it into small chunks. Use your hands to work together all of the almond filling ingredients, squeezing them until they’ve all incorporated.
- Once the dough has nearly doubled, punch it down gently and divide into two equal parts to make two cakes. Roll each part into a rectangle of about 20 x 12 inches.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Spread the 4 tablespoons of softened butter all over each of the dough rectangles (8 tablespoons total). Sprinkle the brown sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon evenly over the butter.
- Spread the almond filling about 1-inch off of the long edge of the rectangle in a line along the edge. The almond filling should be about 1-inch wide (see photo above). Then, beginning with the almond filling edge, begin rolling from one long end to the other until it forms a long roll. Do this with both dough rectangles. Pick up each of the rolls and gently pull to elongate, being careful not to break. Place the rectangles seam-side down on greased baking sheets. Pull each end together to form a circle or oval and seal by pinching. Do your best to make the inside circle as large as possible without breaking the dough. This will help ensure it doesn’t “close in” when the cake puffs up in the oven. Use a little bit of water to help seal all of the edges, if necessary. Take the beaten egg and brush it over the tops of the dough circles and in the seams to seal it off again. Be extra sure that the seams seal. Otherwise, all of that delicious almond filling will leak out.
- Place cakes on a greased baking tray and place in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the outside is golden. Once finished, remove from oven and let baking tray rest on a wire rack until cooled completely.
- While the cake is baking, make the sugar glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar adding the half-and-half a little bit at a time until it reaches your desired consistency.
- Once cake is cooled, pour icing evenly around the tops of each cake and then sprinkle with colored sugars, as shown in the photos.