A royal idea: From king cakes to shrimp vol-au-vent, Dianna Hankey helps the good times roll

March 3, 2011 1:06:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


No Mardi Gras celebration would be complete without a king cake. But, there are cakes, and then there are Dianna Hankey''s cakes. The British expatriate''s fresh, sweet bread pastry is plump with luscious cream cheese filling, brown sugar, cinnamon, sugary icing and colorful sprinkles. And those are the "plain ones." 


Hankey is the former proprietor of The British Pantry in New Hope, a thriving business she closed in anticipation of her husband''s expected transfer from Columbus Air Force Base. Fate intervened, however, and Columbus is still fortunate to have the Hankeys.  


Dianna, who now works from her home, earned a degree in catering and catering management in her native England. She''s lived in America since 1989 and in Columbus since 1999.  


"Making a king cake from start to finish is a four-hour event for me, because I make everything from scratch," she explained in her charmingly accented voice. Her Carnival cakes, which each feed about 15 people, have become popular for businesses to give as gifts to clients. One customer ordered 20 for Mardi Gras 2010. 


"Last year I did about 50 total, so you can imagine," she smiled. "Some days I''m in the kitchen 15 hours." 




Fit for a king 


After making the dough, Dianna rolls it out into three long sections, filling each section with cream cheese, brown sugar and cinnamon. After sealing the edges, she braids the sections together, forming a circle. After baking and cooling, each cake gets the royal treatment with sweet icing and sprinkles in Mardi Gras colors -- gold (for power), green (for faith) and purple (for justice). 


Oh, and she doesn''t forget to add the traditional trinket. In this case, a small plastic baby signifying good luck to the person who ends up with that piece of cake. In New Orleans, where Mardi Gras celebrations are a way of life, finding the trinket usually means you host the next Carnival party, too. 


"Some people really like different fillings in their king cake," said Dianna, who has a variety of ways to make the pastry unique, including using hazelnuts and chocolate, and adding flavors with strawberries or blueberries.  


An added bonus is that Dianna delivers to most locations in and near Columbus at no extra charge. 


Actually, she makes -- and delivers -- everything from rigatoni or quiche to petit fours and wedding cakes on a regular basis.  


Her "special of the week" may be, as it is this week, shepherd''s pie, fresh rolls and chocolate cheese cake brownies, all for $20, delivered. Or perhaps a customer needs a groom''s cake, a homemade apple pie, sausage rolls, chocolate covered strawberries or green olive bread.  


Maybe your child at the Mississippi School for Math and Science is homesick and could use a pick-me-up. Or your elegant occasion needs something special, such as the puff pastry appetizer, shrimp vol-au-vent. Dianna proficiently handles it all; her culinary repertoire is extensive and always expanding. 


"I love to create new things. People love food, and they love something different. I like to give my customers a variety of things that maybe that haven''t tried before, or maybe something from another country," said the energetic cook who grows her own herbs and seeks out fresh ingredients. 


That energy is a necessary commodity. The week before school let out for Christmas, she made 84 apple pies. At Valentine''s, it was "crazy in there all day." And king cake orders are flowing in. But the reward of taking care of her customers feeds Dianna''s culinary passion. 


"I love it, I love it; it''s brilliant for me. It''s about making my customer happy and producing a good product," she said. "That''s exactly what I want." 


When March 8, Fat Tuesday, arrives celebrate with a king cake, or perhaps one of the Mardi Gras-ready recipes in today''s pages. However you do it, find a way to, as they''ll be saying in New Orleans, "laissez le bon temps rouler" -- let the good times roll.  


(Editor''s note: Dianna Hankey may be contacted at 662-240-0226 for more information about items available.) 






Serves: Eight 




6 cups water 


2 teaspoons salt 


1 1/2 cups grits 


1/2 cup butter 


Three eggs, well beaten 


16 ounces shredded sharp Cheddar cheese 


Two to three cloves garlic, finely minced 


Cayenne pepper to taste 




(Source: southernfood.about.com) 






Makes four to five dozen 




One envelope active dry yeast 


1 1/2 cups warm water (approx. 105 degrees) 


1/2 cup granulated sugar 


1 teaspoon salt 


Two eggs, beaten 


1 cup evaporated milk 


7 cups all-purpose flour 


1/4 cup shortening, softened 


Oil for deep frying 


Powdered sugar 




(Source: southernfood.about.com) 






Cook time: 40 minutes 


Serves four 




Two cans red kidney beans (15 ounces each) 


Three slices bacon 


One large onion, chopped 


1/2 cup chopped celery 


One small bell pepper, chopped 


2 tablespoons chopped parsley 


1/2 cup chopped green onions, with tops 


2 tablespoons ketchup 


1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce 


One jar (2 ounces) chopped pimiento 


One can (8 ounces) tomato paste 


1 teaspoon chili powder 


1/2 pound Polish sausage, sliced, if desired 


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.