Saturday, January 6, 2018

King Cake Recipe


This is the King Cake recipe that I have been using for over two decades now.  It was very difficult to master - as anyone who ever tasted my earlier efforts will attest.  But from years and years of trial and error I finally have it down and now people practically demand that I make a King Cake for my parties -- and theirs!  (Even people who say they hate King Cake clamor for home made.)  My problem was that this was from an 1880-something recipe (I regret that I did not make note of the exact date) and I didn't know then what I now know about vintage recipes.  The biggest problem was that the recipe required you to make three strands, braid them and then bake them in a "moderate oven" for an hour.


I've learned that 12 minutes or less is all you need.  So, here is the recipe with the benefit of my expertise.  I will warn you - it is complicated to make in that there are a lot of steps, but they are not difficult steps.  It is a bread...not a cake....and I will say I tried to make the dough in a bread machine (and a food processor too, for that matter) and my notes say that it was a disaster.  Do this by hand.  There are many who will look at this and say "Sheesh!  That's way too much work!  It's just easier to buy one!"  Well, that's very true...but one bite of home made King Cake still warm from the oven will convince you that it's so worth the effort and you'll do it year after year.  Now, if you're ready - here we go...


4 cups flour                                                1 cup warm, whole milk
2 pkgs yeast                                               1 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar                                             1 egg (room temperature)
1 stick butter, melted                                 1 egg yolk beaten with
   (NOT margarine!!!  And don't let                     1 tsp milk
             the butter be hot.)                           cinnamon
                                            plastic baby
                                            white icing
                    purple, green & gold sanding sugars
                     or any kind of festive decoration

Sift 3 cups of flour into bowl
      - Make a well in the center
      - Add yeast & 1 tsp sugar in well
             (Hint: check the expiration date on your yeast - make sure                                                                                       it's still good.)
      - Add warm milk and stir to dissolve yeast
      - Sprinkle a little flour over yeast mix
      - Cover with a cloth or towel and let stand 10 minutes

Beat melted butter, remaining sugar, salt & egg until thoroughly blended.  (This is why you don't want your butter hot - if it's too hot it will cook the egg.)

After yeast mix has sat for 10 minutes, remove the towel.  It should be very foamy.  If it is not, your yeast is no good and you'll need to start that part over with fresher yeast. However,  if you've checked your expiration date and the yeast hasn't expired, you'll be fine.  Carry on....

      - Stir butter/egg mixture into the yeast mixture and incorporate the rest of the flour to make a soft dough, stir in more flour a little at a time as needed to make the dough soft but firm.
      - Knead until smooth and elastic.  (8 – 10 minutes)

Place in a greased bowl, turn to coat all sides, cover bowl with a towel/cloth and let rise in a warm place 1 – ½ hours.

  - Punch dough down and divide in three equal parts.

      - Sprinkle each part liberally with cinnamon.
      - Roll and stretch each piece into 40 inch strands.
      - Pinch them all together on one end and braid.
      - Place the braid on a greased baking sheet (I also line the sheet with foil) forming an oval
      - Place the baby somewhere in the dough and pinch dough over it to hide it well.

    - Cover and let rise 30 minutes.

Bake at 325⁰ for 10 – 12 minutes until golden brown.

Frost while warm and decorate.

Save a piece for me!

OK, its time to give you some of my expertise.  This is extremely easy to mess up and I spent years making notes of my successes and failures.  I won't bore you with all of them but I will tell you that I have learned to use an instant read thermometer and after ten minutes at 325⁰ check it - the cake is done when the thermometer reads between 176⁰ and 179⁰.  

I know that sounds weird - why not 175 - 180⁰ ?  I don't know - but trust me on this.

Bake the baby in the dough - the dough will not get hot enough to melt the plastic.  Make sure you hide the baby well in the dough - if something happens that the head or a foot or arm is sticking out after the baking, slather icing on it.


Thursday, April 28, 2016


With crawfish season in full tilt the obsession with the crawfish boil is raging as fiercely as the boil water.  However, in the old days crawfish (while certainly available to those that wanted it) was not necessarily a springtime staple in the New Orleans diet and there are no recipes or directions in vintage cookbooks for what we now know as a crawfish boil until much later.  (In fact, until more recently, the crab boil was more typical in the New Orleans area than was crawfish.)

However, there are vintage crawfish recipes in older cookbooks - some of them are pretty creative.  I would encourage those who follow this blog to give other options a try.  Here are two from 1941.  (The Tomato Cheese Sauce is a tomato soup based shortcut - homemade cream of tomato soup or a basic Creole sauce with a cup of grated cheese added and melted in will work if one prefers.)

by Mrs. Geo. A. Chehardy (New Orleans)

   With Tomato Cheese Sauce

Filling for Dumplings:

2 cups boiled, minced crawfish mixed with 1 tablespoon each minced onion, parsley, green pepper and celery.  Season highly and moisten with melted butter.


Sift together 2 cups flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder and 1/8 tsp. salt.  Cut in 2 tablespoons shortening and 1 beaten egg.  Add enough milk (about 3/4 cup) to make a moderately firm dough.  Roll thin; cut in large rounds.  Place a generous amount of the crawfish mixture on each and fold the edges of the dough to the center.  Arrange in a buttered pan; bake in a hot oven.[1]  Delicious.

Tomato Cheese Sauce:

This is a quick method sauce that is excellent. and when hot  Heat 1 can of cream of tomato soup[2] and when hot stir in 1 cup of grated yello cheese.  Cook long enough to melt cheese.  Serve on the dumplings.


2 ½ tablespoons butter
½ onion
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 cups hot milk
2 hard boiled eggs
2 ½ tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup chopped celery
1 cup boiled, chopped crawfish
Steamed rice
1 teaspoon curry

Melt butter; add onion and cook until onion is tender.  Stir in the flour; add milk; cook 10 minutes.  Add all ingredients (except the rice).  Cook over hot water 15 minutes.  To serve arrange mounds or rice, then a border of the curried crawfish.  Surround with a border of panéed bananas.  To pané bananas dip in egg, then in crumbs and fry.[3]

[1] 350º for 15 - 25 minutes or until golden brown.
[2] 1 can tomato soup diluted with 1 can milk.
[3] Use fairly green bananas; quarter by cutting in half lengthwise then widthwise; deep fry in oil or in a skillet with a a generous layer of oil until golden brown.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Rice Pudding

When people think of pudding in New Orleans, most often bread pudding leaps to mind.  While it's true that bread pudding has been a Creole favorite for time immemorial, rice pudding was right up there on the top shelf.  Three things the Creole cook sought - 1.) no waste, 2.) economy and 3.) loads of flavor!  Here are two 19th century recipes for rice pudding - both from 1885 and both delicious!


from Creole Cookery, 1885

Rice Pudding

4 tablespoons of soft, boiled rice,[1]  ¼ lb. of butter, 1 quart of milk, 8 eggs;[2] Scald the milk; add a few sticks of cinnamon, and while warm, stir  into it the rice, butter, and eggs, which must be first beaten;[3]  sweeten to the taste, and bake in a dish.[4]


from La Cuisine Creole, 1885

Rice Meringue Pudding

Boil ½ cup of rice[5] in a quart of milk until it is thoroughly done. Sweeten to taste and let it cool.  Beat in the yolks of 4 eggs.  Flavor with lemon rind[6] or essence and nutmeg.[7]  Bake in a pudding dish.  When cool, pour over it the whites of your eggs beaten with a cup of white sifted sugar.[8]  Bake light brown.  Season to taste with lemon, rose or vanilla.

[1] A tablespoon meaning a serving spoon -  about ¾ to 1 cup of rice
[2] Eggs were smaller then – 4 large eggs will do
[3] Beat the butter and eggs together first, stir it into the rice, then fold in the other ingredients.
[4] Butter a baking dish – I’ve made this in a square 9x9x2 inch pan – bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
[5] Uncooked rice – you’re cooking it in the milk; also, a cup back then meant a teacup – about ¼ cup in today’s measure
[6] Lemon Zest
[7] Meaning vanilla extract and nutmeg
[8] about ½ cup powdered sugar, beaten into a stiff meringue.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Creole Red Beans & Rice

Creole Red Beans and Rice
Red Beans & Rice*

1 lb dry kidney beans
1 lb. ham or a really flavorful smoked sausage
1 tblsn butter (if needed)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt/Pepper, to taste

~ Place dry beans in a large bowl or plastic container; cover with 3 times as much water as beans and leave to soak overnight.

~ In a skillet, brown the ham or sausage; remove to large pot.  Reserve meat drippings – if there are none (or not much), melt butter in skillet

~ Sauté onion, bell pepper, celery & garlic in drippings until tender; add to meat in pot

~ Take a little water and deglaze the skillet; add to pot

~ Drain beans; add to pot; cover beans with water, filling to approx 2 inches over top of beans

~ Bring beans to boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer; cook for 2 – 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender and have made a rich gravy.  If beans seem to be drying out a little, add a little water.  Gravy should be nice and rich – not thin and watery – you want a stew consistency, not a soup

~ Serve over fluffy white rice with French bread and butter.

*Crock pot not recommended for cooking beans; great for reheating and serving, though.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


June 27th, 2015 I was doing a ghost tour in the French Quarter and brought my group to the building that used be O’Flaherty’s Irish Pub at 508 Toulouse St., now a restaurant known as Creole Cookery.  As we stood across the street and I was telling my story, a woman in my group grew faint from the heat and collapsed into a doorway.  Naturally, we all rushed to offer her our assistance.  She came to fairly quickly and people offered her water.  I asked if there was anything I could do, her friend said they wanted a cab.  So, I started calling for a cab (got busy signals but kept trying) and watching the traffic on Toulouse Street to see if I could hail a taxi.

As we were dealing with this, the barker from Creole Cookery (whose name is Solomon) came across the street toward us with a pleasant smile and started trying to hand out menus and invite us all to come over to eat. I told him “Solomon, right now we’re dealing with a bit of an emergency.”  He continued to try to give a sales pitch to my group.  I came over and said “Solomon, this is not an appropriate time to be handing out menus, we are dealing with a bit of a crisis.”  Well, he went away and shortly afterward a young woman came over with menus, smiling, and started trying to hand them out.  I told her the same thing, in a stern voice.  She said she had a right to hand out menus and that I shouldn’t speak to her that way.  I said “We’re dealing with an issue now, you need to go.”

Mind you, I have a woman sitting in a doorway with a group around her, I have others trying me help me hail a cab while I’m waiting for a cab company to answer the phone and here is Creole Cookery trying to make a sale without offering any assistance – just a sales pitch.  Eventually A. J., the owner of the joint, comes over and rudely tells me that they can AND WILL offer menus to these people.  I said “Look, we’re in the middle of a health issue here – this is not an appropriate time.”  His response was “Bring her over into the air conditioning and you all can have a drink until she feels better." He said this despite the fact that she was sitting in an open shop doorway and the air conditioning was blasting out from the shop where we were.

One of my guests said “Really?”

THEN --- A.J. (who was still trying to force menus into my guests' hands) said “Keep us in mind for breakfast. We’re open for breakfast.”  No one in my group accepted a menu and pretty much everyone was offended that Creole Cookery saw this as an opportunity to make a sale.  Eventually a taxicab came along, the woman’s friend helped her to the cab and they went back to their hotel.  I finished my story and quickly moved along. 

I just want everyone to know about this – here the people of Creole Cookery had an opportunity to say “Let me help you get a cab” – or to come over with a bottle of water – or offer to call an ambulance or…ANYTHING!  Instead of offering assistance they tried to shove menus into the hands of a group of people who were concerned for this woman and said “Come and have dinner here!  Come have a drink here!  Come have breakfast here!”  That tells you the kind of place Creole Cookery is.  As for me, I will choose another route and tell a different ghost story and I will not stop in front of Creole Cookery ever again.

Tell everyone you know.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Bloody Mary

People are often amazed to find that the Bloody Mary cocktail – so popular at New Orleans brunches, lunches, teas, dinners, midnight snacks, parades, kindergarten graduations and funeral services – was not developed here and is not a New Orleans drink.  The origins of the Bloody Mary can be traced to a Parisian bartender (and notorious name dropper) by the name of Fernand Petiot.  He made many claims to have originated the drink, however in the two stories between which he most often vacillated famous names, such as Ernest Hemingway and the “Toastmaster General” George Jessel, found their way into the mix.

Fernand Petiot
George Jessel
In one version of his story, Petiot claimed to have created the drink in the Roaring 20’s at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris where Ernest Hemingway hung out.  A couple of customers from Chicago said the drink reminded them of a waitress back home named Bloody Mary and the drink was so christened. Later, his story changed when he brought George Jessel into the picture.  In 1925 Petiot moved to the United States and he served libations at the King Cole Bar in the St. Regis Hotel from 1934 to 1966.  In 1964 he told The New Yorker “I initiated the Bloody Mary of today…George Jessel said he created it, but it was really nothing but vodka and tomato juice when I took it over.”  In this version, Jessel’s drink was nothing more than equal parts tomato juice and vodka.  Petiot claimed to have taken it further by adding salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice.  According to Petiot, “We serve a hundred to a hundred and fifty Bloody Marys a day here in the King Cole Room and in the other restaurants and the banquet rooms.”

Whether the drink was created in Paris or New York, it made its way to New Orleans where it slipped right in with its jazzy Creole sass and, certainly, oysters manage to slip down very easily when chased with a Bloody Mary.  Here is my favorite recipe for the mix; it comes from Emeril Lagasse and, while you will notice it contains no cayenne or Tabasco sauce, the Worcestershire sauce gives it just the right kick.

1 lg can tomato juice*
1 cup beef bouillon
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp celery seed
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. lime juice
5 oz. Worcestershire sauce

Mix well; chill.  Makes 32 oz. (Double the recipe for a gallon.) Best when made a day or two in advance.  For cocktail, mix 4 parts mix to 1 part vodka.

* I’ve also tried V8 but it doesn’t make enough difference in flavor to warrant substituting it.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Layered Flavors in Creole Cuisine

It is said by many of the Creole professionals that the layering of flavors is an African technique. While it's true that foods from France, Spain, Germany, Italy and elsewhere formed the basis of Creole Cuisine, it was the African cooks who took their own know-how and made it happen.  It's the extraction of all possible flavor and then the expert layering of them that is all important in all Creole dishes.  Here in this video is a recipe for stewed okra from which our gumbo evolved.  (The word "gumbo" is from the West African word GOMBO - okra.)  In it we see how one layer is created, then another is created and added and another is added and another.  The video is in French as it is from the French speaking West African coast, so if you don't speak African-French you'll just have to watch and learn.  (Watch how the okra is prepared - fascinating!)  A few things that'll help:

Totogboè - sardines

Maquereau Fumé - smoked mackerel

Huile de palma Zomi  (Red palm oil)  an oil produced exclusively from palm nuts and spices. All Africa is present in this product, with its intense red color and its unique and spicy taste. 

Gingembre Mixé - Ginger root, grated, mixed with a little water and allowed to steep.  It is used ginger, water and all.

Morceau de potasse - an edible potash used in West African cooking.

Ewo - Corn meal.

As you can see from the ingredients, this is a very different dish from the gumbo we know in New Orleans today, but here we clearly see the genesis of it.  Notice how nothing is wasted - the byproducts of the fish are boiled to make a stock - the first layer - the okra comes next - the crab layer is created and added - and so on.  Imagine how skilled enslaved African cooks took this expertise and incorporated the resources available in the Colony - adding roux - adding the Creole trinity (a mire poix of bell pepper, celery and onion) - adding shrimp and oysters - and created that most Creole of Creole dishes - GUMBO - from this, its mother dish!