What exactly is king cake?

February 2016
By: Grace Culter, Fox News

One of the lasting Mardis Gras traditions, along with beads, costumes and parties, is the brightly colored king cake.

Carnival season, starting on Kings Day (Jan. 8) and ending on Ash Wednesday (Feb10 this year), is dominated by the eating of this cinnamon treat, which sparks massive lines at New Orleans area bakeries like Randazzo’s in Metairie and Haydel’s.

Made from thin layers of pastry, king cake is best described as a cinnamon sugared sweet bread --like a cross between a brioche, a coffee cake, and a doughnut.  Typically decorated in three colors of sugar (purple represents justice, green represents faith and gold represents power), it comes with all types of fillings.

According to tradition, a little plastic baby is put inside the cake, and the lucky person who lands the piece with the baby is supposed to provide the king cake next year.

But like fruit cake, it often gets a bad rap for being tasteless and dry due to the custom in which it’s baked.  But king cake can be gooey and delicious.


The Southern Hot List

February 2016
By: Garden and Gun

The Kitchen Magicians
Seven enterprising chefs who are following their passions at their innovative new restaurants

Willa Jean, in New Orleans, brings to mind Grandma’s kitchen—taken over by a pair of the country’s finest pastry chefs. Lisa White and Kelly Fields, who lent her own grandmother’s name to the restaurant, pay tribute to generations past with biscuits, skillet cornbread, and sandwiches heaped with fried chicken and griddled meat loaf. Joseph Lennwon a James Beard Award for his work at the ultraluxe Blackberry Farm resort in Walland, Tennessee. 


Chefs’ Picks: Treats for a Snowy Day

February 2016
By: Samanatha Lande, Food NetworkWarm Chocolate Pudding
Nostalgia is a huge source of inspiration for pastry chef Kelly Fields. After all, her New Orleans bakery, Willa Jean, is named for her grandmother. So on snow days, she waxes nostalgic with warm chocolate pudding. “Most people I know grew up eating pudding cold. My mom, however, would make pudding on the stove the old-fashioned way,” she says. “Remembering the warmth of our house, the light and the way the house smelled when my mom made this on winter days is one of my clearest childhood memories. Every time we serve it at Willa Jean, I still have the desire to cuddle up on the couch and take my time savoring every last bite.”

Warm Chocolate Pudding

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 pod vanilla bean
2 whole eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft
4 ounces 70 percent chocolate

In a heavy-bottomed sauce pot over medium high heat, combine the cream, milk and vanilla bean. In a separate bowl, whisk together granulated sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch and salt. Add in eggs and whisk the mixture until smooth. Once the dairy comes up to a scald, remove from heat and slowly temper, adding small amounts of the hot liquid into the egg mix while whisking constantly. Once the majority of the dairy is incorporated into the egg mixture, return the whole amount to the pot and place over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and bubbles. Once bubbling, remove from heat and immediately whisk in the butter and chocolate. Serve warm as is, or top with optional coconut shortbread crumbs and candied pecans.

Coconut Shortbread Crumbs

1/4 cup powdered sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup semolina flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 cup coconut flakes
1/4 cup brown sugar

Preaheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Sift powdered sugar and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Stream in sifted powdered sugar and cream together until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add semolina flour and 3/4 teaspoon salt; stir to just incorporate. Allow the dough to rest for about 30 minutes in the fridge before rolling out into an even layer, about 1/4 inch thick. Place on a cookie sheet and bake in oven until it just starts getting golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool until it’s comfortable to handle. Place the shortbread into the bowl of a food processor and add in the coconut flakes, brown sugar and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt. Pulse the food processor until all is incorporated and sandy. Return the mix to the cookie sheet and finish baking until toasty and golden, stirring every 5 minutes or so.

Candied Pecans

1 1/2 teaspoons egg whites
1 cup pecan pieces
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Lightly whisk the egg whites in a small bowl until frothy. Add in pecan pieces and stir with a rubber spatula just until the pieces are coated. Sprinkle in the granulated sugar while stirring. Place nuts onto a baking sheet in a single, even layer. Bake until dry and toasty, stirring about every 5 minutes.


Make a bedazzled king cake and get NOLA chefs' Mardi Gras secrets

February 2016
By: Abby Reisner, Tasting Table

Mardi Gras has, well, a reputation.

"I was not prepared for the amount of items thrown off of a float, and I got a black eye from a flying stack of cups," Lisa White, partner/baker of Willa Jean in New Orleans, says about her first Carnival season.

Another way Fat Tuesday (happening this year on February 9) can leave a mark: one too many slices of king cake, the bedazzled centerpiece of a Mardi Gras celebration meal. New Orleans-born David Guas of Virginia and Washington, D.C.'s Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery remembers his high school days, when he would have king cake-eating competitions with his friends on their way to swim practice. "Needless to say, we weren't the speediest (or most buoyant) swimmers during Carnival season."

We're not one to pass up an opportunity to make an all-frills cake. And since a celebration this large calls for serious pastry, we layer the twisted brioche dough with filling inspired by bananas Foster, another classic New Orleans dessert (see the recipe). Then we top it with a sugary rum glaze before adding a crowning glory of way too much glitter dust.