February 26, 2009
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
The revelry of New Orleans’ Carnival season isn’t confined to the Big Easy. On Monday, with beads and moon pies flying, Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science students celebrated Mardi Gras with a parade, a musical “second line” and a surfeit of high spirits.
Under sunny skies, several vehicles adorned in brilliant greens, golds and purples paraded past crowds gathered in front of the Hooper Building and the student center on the Mississippi University for Women campus. Just around the block, the parade’s smallest onlookers — about 40 1 to 5 year olds from the MUW Child and Parent Development Center — sat bundled, eagerly awaiting the procession.
“This is great to break up the monotony of studying,” said 17-year-old MSMS senior Matt Pacheco, of Hernando, sporting his share of glittering beads. “It’s good to have fun for an hour in a day.” Also celebrating on Hooper’s steps were instructor Angela Jones’ Sculpture II students who fashioned their own Mardi Gras masks with ceramics, feathers and a variety of paints.
Along with the festivity comes good food. The busy students’ annual time-out is also an occasion for enjoying the most traditional of Mardi Gras must-haves — the King cake.
Thousands of the familiar specialty cakes are consumed every year in New Orleans between Twelfth Night, Jan. 6, and Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25. Many are also shipped throughout the country for displaced New Orleanians longing for a taste of home, as well as others who enjoy celebrating. Locally, stores like Wal-Mart and Kroger have been known to carry them, and Starkville’s State Fountain Bakery bakes them fresh.
The treat introduced in America by French settlers around 1870 is made with a rich Danish dough — with a hidden surprise inside — and covered with a sugar and icing topping in Mardi Gras colors. Purple represents justice; green denotes faith, and gold stands for power.
The small plastic baby doll hidden inside most of us are familiar with today evolved from an earlier custom of hiding a bean, coin, pecan or pea in each cake, according to the “What’s Cooking America?” Web site. Wealthy Louisiana plantation owners in the latter 1800s would sometimes put a precious stone or jewel in the dough.
Whatever the prize, the recipient who finds it in their portion is “crowned” king or queen for the day and is tapped to host the following year’s party and supply the all-important cake.
More tasty traditions
While the king cake makes its appearance specifically during Carnival season, there are plenty of Mardi Gras favorites New Orleans has given us we can enjoy year-round. They can be made at home, too, with recipes from “What’s Cooking America?” shared in today’s food pages.
Beignets are one of the storied city’s best-known culinary legacies, conjuring up visions of people-watching in the French Quarter at Cafe Du Monde. Beignet, the Web site tells us, comes from the early Celtic word “bigne,” meaning “to raise.” It is also French for fritter. These fried desserts made of yeast dough have been associated with Mardi Gras in France since at least the 16th century. In 1986, the beignet was named the official Louisiana State Doughnut.
And how about pralines — one of the South’s favorite melt-in-your-mouth sweet treats? Anyone who has ever visited the Crescent City will remember this delicious candy, which is fairly easy to make. With a candy thermometer and a watchful eye, you’re in business.
The more elaborate Bananas Foster has a distinctly New Orleans history. During the 1950s, the city was the major port of entry for bananas shipped from Central and South America.
In 1951, so the story goes, Owen Edward Brennan of Brennan’s Restaurant challenged his talented chef, Paul Blangé, to include bananas in a new recipe. The scrumptious creation Blangé came up with was named for Richard Foster, a frequent customer who also served with Brennan on the New Orleans Crime Commission. Little did anyone realize what an international hit Bananas Foster would become. “What’s Cooking America?” tells us 35,000 pounds of bananas are flambéed each year at Brennan’s for this now world-famous dessert.
The term flambé is a French word meaning “flaming” or “flamed.” It means to ignite foods that have liquor or liqueur added. It’s done for dramatic effect and to develop a rich flavor of the liqueur without adding the alcohol. If making Bananas Foster at home, take care — and check the batteries in your smoke detector.
Stop by http://whatscookingamerica.net for recipes for more Louisiana favorites such as jambalaya, gumbo, muffulettas and oysters Rockefeller.
(Makes 36 small or 20 large pralines)
2 cups sugar
2 cups firmly packed light or dark brown sugar*
1 cup evaporated milk
2 cups pecan halves
*The type of brown sugar used will determine the color of the pralines.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, brown sugar and evaporated milk. Cook, stirring constantly, until the candy thermometer reaches 236 degrees F., or when a small amount of sugar mixture dropped into very cold water separates into hard but not brittle threads.
- Immediately remove thermometer and remove sugar mixtures from heat. Set saucepan in a large pan of cold water to cool.
- Butter a large sheet of wax paper and set aside.
- When sugar mixture has almost cooled, beat with a spoon for one minute, or until it begins to lose its gloss.
- Immediately stir in pecans and drop by tablespoons onto prepared buttered wax paper. (Work quickly before the mixture sets. If it thickens up, just place pan back on low heat to re-soften.)
- When pralines cool and become firm, wrap individually in aluminum foil or plastic wrap and store in a covered container.
(Makes 18 beignets)
1 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
One egg, room temperature and beaten
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup evaporated milk
4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons instant active dry yeast
Vegetable oil (Use just enough to completely cover beignets while frying)
Powdered sugar for dusting
- Using a mixer with a dough hook, place water, sugar, salt, egg, butter, evaporated milk, flour and yeast in the bowl. Beat until smooth.
- If using a bread machine, select dough setting and press start. When dough cycle has finished, remove the dough from the pan and turn out onto a lightly oiled surface.
- Form dough into an oval, place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled (three to four hours) or overnight.
- In a deep fryer or large pot, heat vegetable oil to 360 degrees F. Fry the beignets (two or three at a time) two to three minutes, or until they are puffed and golden brown on both sides, turning them in the oil once or twice to get them evenly brown. (Note: Beignets will rise to the surface of the oil as soon as they begin to puff. If they don’t rise to the top immediately when dropped into oil, the oil is not hot enough.)
- Remove from oil and drain on paper towels, then sprinkle heavily with powdered sugar. Serve hot.
Brennan’s Bananas Foster
(Makes four servings)
1/4 cup butter
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup banana liqueur
4 bananas, cut in half lengthwise, then halved
1/4 cup dark rum
4 scoops vanilla ice cream
- Combine the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a flambé pan or skillet. Place the pan over low heat either on an alcohol burner or on top of the stove, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.
- Stir in the banana liqueur, then place bananas in the pan. When the banana sections soften and begin to brown, carefully add rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then tip the pan slightly to ignite the rum.
- When flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream. Generously spoon warm sauce over the top of the ice cream and serve immediately.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.