February 26, 2014 10:09:49 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Growing up in Texas, Marina Loper's family made many a king cake, but it's not what you think. Those pastries had nothing to do with Mardi Gras; they were cakes the Hispanic community topped with dried fruits and served at Twelfth Night, commemorating the wise men -- the kings -- arriving to honor the baby Jesus. On Saturday, however, Loper turned her attention to the signature food associated with Mardi Gras and taught a king cake class at Thyme in Starkville.
Loper, of Ackerman, is a foodie in the truest sense. By the time she was 9, she was saving all the spare change she could find to buy issues of Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines.
"I would just sit there and look at them and pretend I was eating that food," said the mother of three, who was raised by her grandmother from Mexico. "I said to myself that someday I'm going to eat like that."
Cooking came naturally to Loper, at the side of her grandmother.
"Everything was homemade. At Christmas she would make sometimes even 100 dozen tamales as gifts for our neighbors. Me and my sisters called it a tamale party; it was like an assembly line," she laughed.
Loper's passion for cooking only increased, propelling her into a food service career, "from fast food to country club dining." Her marriage to Randy Loper, now head of the Extension Center for Technology Outreach, brought her to Mississippi, where she worked for a time with the Extension Service and Valley Food Services. She even had a bakery for two years in Ackerman. Along the way, she amassed more than 500 cookbooks and never missed an opportunity to further her culinary skills.
"My husband says I'm the only woman he knows who would be happy with a class at the Viking Cooking School, a trip to a grocery store, a cookbook or a kitchen appliance," she joked. It's no exaggeration; one Mother's Day, she asked for a shopping trip to Fresh Market in Jackson.
Cake for a king
Loper's goal for the six ladies in Thyme's interactive king cake class was to give them the confidence to make their own king cakes at home. Ellen McGuffey was a participant.
"She was really good, very helpful; she had a lot of common sense tips," said McGuffey, who works at the Starkville Pediatric Clinic. A couple of those helpful hints include a short cut for bringing eggs from the refrigerator to room temperature by immersing them in warm water; and always use lukewarm water to work with yeast. "If it's too cold it won't activate, and if it's too hot, it messes it up," McGuffey shared.
After the class, Abigail Voller went home and made a king cake.
"I followed the recipe she gave us and it worked perfectly," said Voller, a lecturer with the Mississippi State University Department of English. "I got a lot out of the class, especially because I don't deal a lot with breads. ... The ladies were a lot of fun."
McGuffey hasn't made a king cake yet, but she's ready to give it a go.
"I'm OK with trying to do it now; I feel like I can do it properly ... I saw what she did to keep it from being sticky, but not overworked, and rolling the dough, but not over-rolling it ... "
Nothing pleases Loper more.
"When my students leave and they want to go home and replicate and try what they've learned, that's my ultimate satisfaction."
Marina Loper shares her recipe for king cake with a cinnamon filling in today's food pages, just in time for Mardi Gras March 4. Below the recipe steps, she offers alternative fillings -- praline, and cream cheese. Tie the chef's apron on and let the good times roll.
Editor's note: To receive notification about Thyme's future classes, email [email protected], or contact the shop at 402 Lampkin St., Starkville, 662-323-5979. Follow Thyme on Facebook.
For the dough:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces sour cream
5 tablespoons sugar, divided into 4 tablespoons and 1 tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water, around 105 degrees
3 to 3 1/2 cups flour
For cinnamon filling:
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons melted butter
For the icing:
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoon milk
(Notes: You can use purchased colored sugar; I just like to make my own. If inserting plastic baby in the cake, insert through bottom right before icing.)
For a praline filling:
1/4 cup of unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup of chopped pecans
1/2 cup of light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
n Stir together until well combined.
For a cream cheese filling:
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.