Though I grew up Lutheran, Epiphany - the celebration of when the wise men visited the Christ Child - was never considered particularly important. Part of the blame, of course, falls on the fact that Epiphany is right after Christmas. It might be a fun holiday, but everyone's too tired to care. "We Three Kings" went on the hymn list for the week, and we called it a day.
But this past year, when reading "Strega Nona's Gift," I decided to pick a couple of fun oft-ignored holidays to try to work into our family's holiday schedule.
Last year we had fun making Santa Lucia bread for Santa Lucia Day, and I planned to do that again this year - but didn't make it. (Hoping to pick it up again next year.) Next year I'd also love to pick up on Las Posadas.
But we did make it to Epiphany this year!
Myth has it that on the Eve of Epiphany, one should always feed one's animals extra well - because on the Eve of Epiphany, animals are given the gift of speech for one night. If poorly fed, of course, they will talk badly about their masters.
This is, of course, a myth - but we had fun with it anyway! "Oh, boy - better feed the cats well tonight! Never know what they're gonna say!"
Then on Epiphany itself, one bakes a King Cake with a small plastic baby baked into it - the recipient, of course, being the favored person who will have good luck over the coming year.
Anyhow, it's an easy and fun holiday - both from a biblical perspective and as a cultural-mythological holiday.
We made our King Cake yesterday, using this recipe. I was expecting a run-of-the-mill sweet bread, and thus, when I caved and tried a bite, I was absolutely blown away.
I have finally found culinary nirvana, and it's called King Cake.
Wow. That stuff is amazing! Don't believe me? Come over, and I'll fight you over it! (And then I'll take your piece and enjoy every morsel of it.)
But in the meantime, you've got to try this awesome recipe!!!
One tip - start this early in the day. I ended up pulling it out of the oven at ten o'clock at night, when I was dead tired (and ready to be doing other things, like chores and taking a shower), and it didn't help that I also had wired kids bouncing off walls while they waited for the cake to be done.
|A delicate, chewy texture, flavored with a hint of nutmeg. Add in a cream cheese filling and a lemon-cream glaze, and you have.... a food for the gods. And yes, that IS our open dishwasher beneath it. It's called professional photography, people.|
I should note that it's supposed to be baked on a cookie sheet, but I decided to do a half-recipe in a Bundt pan. It worked beautifully.
|My piece. One of them.|
Ours was not colored in the traditional way (stripes of pastel-colored sugar - see recipe link for the proper decor), but we did our best. And twelve hours after it came out of the oven... it was gone.
About the "good luck toy" - we didn't have a tiny plastic baby, so I went English-style instead and put in a sixpence (okay, it was a quarter). It was a complete disaster. It came out of the cake as soon as it was unmolded, and much as I kept trying to stick it back in, it kept falling out. I eventually gave up in disgust. Next time I'll find a toy and do it properly!
In the meantime, ENJOY! This is one holiday tradition that has come to our house to stay!
* Note - I learned later that this cake, while called King Cake, is actually a different kind of King Cake - one that is traditionally made in New Orleans during Mardi Gras (the Wednesday before the start of Lent). Well, gee. I made completely the wrong dessert for the wrong holiday. You win some... and you lose some... but I think I've found our Epiphany dessert anyway! YUM. We'll just be a bit radical in terms of messing up traditions of the liturgical year.
* Even later note - Finding definite information on this cake is very difficult - it's all over the place! Another source I found says that King Cake is served anytime between Epiphany and Lent, in which case we didn't screw up after all.
So, when all is said and done, just forget historicity and enjoy the cake.