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Three Kings Day Cake

The party isn't over! The holidays are just beginning!

Think the holidays are over... think again! The feast of the Epiphany is on January 6 and that also marks the start of Mardi Gras! In Italy, the Epiphany is more celebrated than Christmas as it marks the day the three wise men reached their destination. Children especially love the day as they wake up to presents - yes, more presents - this time from La Befana, a good witch who swept the sky with light.

The song the 12 days of Christmas actually ends with Jan 6. Mardi Gras officially begins on Twelfth Night (January 6) and lasts until Ash Wednesday, and King Cake is the traditional dessert served at this time. French settlers brought this custom to New Orleans around 1870 to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. The round shape of the cake represents the circular route taken by the Three Kings to confuse King Herod, who was following them to find the Christ child - and that witch was up there the whole time shining her light so they could see. You gotta love a good story!

Back to the cake.... a small figurine symbolizing the baby Jesus, small coin or bean is baked into the King Cake. In 1871, the tradition of choosing the queen of the Mardi Gras was decided by whoever found the prize in the cake. Today, it is considered good luck to find the prize and that person usually hosts next year’s party and bakes the King Cake. The three colors used to decorate the cake are symbolic to the festival and were chosen in 1872: purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power.

While this cake has a lot of ingredients, it's fairly simple to make!

  • 1/2 cup warm water (110° to 115° F)

  • 2 packets (1/4 ounces each) active-dry yeast

  • 2/3 cup (5 fluid-ounce can) NESTLÉ® CARNATION® Evaporated Milk, divided

  • 5 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, divided

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 4 large egg yolks, at room temperature

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

  • 2 cups powdered sugar

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 3 to 4 teaspoons water, divided

  • 2 tablespoons green sugar

  • 2 tablespoons purple sugar

  • 2 tablespoons yellow sugar

Combine warm water and yeast in glass measure. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Combine 4 cups flour, sugar, lemon peel, salt and nutmeg in large bowl. Make a well in the center. Place yeast mixture, remaining evaporated milk, eggs, egg yolks and butter in well; stir well. Add about 1 to 1 1/2 cups flour until a soft smooth dough is formed.Reserve 1 tablespoon evaporated milk to use as a wash later; refrigerate.

Place dough on lightly floured surface; knead gently for about 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic, adding additional flour as necessary. Shape into a ball. Place in large greased bowl; turn over. Cover with greased plastic wrap. Let rise in warm place for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.

Grease two large baking sheets. Wrap 2 small plastic baby figurines, coins or beans in wax paper.

Punch dough down. Remove dough from bowl to lightly floured surface. Cut dough in half. Return one half to bowl. With dough on board, cut dough into three even pieces. Roll each piece to a 24-inch length. Braid. Lift braid to baking sheet. Form a ring and join ends. Lift up one area and insert the figurine that has been wrapped in wax paper by pushing it up through the bottom. Cover ring with greased plastic wrap. Repeat with remaining half of dough. Allow to rise in warm place for about 30 minutes or until almost doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350º F. Brush top of each ring with reserved tablespoon of evaporated milk.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes; remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Combine powdered sugar, lemon juice and 3 teaspoons water in small bowl until smooth. If necessary, add additional teaspoon of water to achieve a spreadable consistency.

Spread half of icing over top of first cake, allowing icing to drip down sides. Immediately sprinkle with half of colored sugars in 2” wide strips of green, purple and yellow. Repeat on other ring with remaining icing and sugars.

Store cakes tightly wrapped at room temperature.

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