Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Celebrate Mardi Gras with an Easy Yeasted Bread

Many of us think that the only way to celebrate Mardi Gras is by getting sloshified drunk.  That might work when you're a college kid, but a lot of us have to get up and go to work tomorrow or take care of kids tonight, tomorrow, and into the foreseeable future.  How should we celebrate?

In the churches of my youth, there would have been a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper to attend.  I'm guessing that many churches will be dark tonight.  After all, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and we really can't expect, in this day and time, for people to go to church on more than one weeknight.  Most church folks I know will barely make it to Ash Wednesday service.  For those of you wanting a primer on how we came to have Mardi Gras, Carnival, and/or Shrove Tuesday, go to this post on my theology blog.

So, here's an idea:  a simple, yeasted bread that requires no kneading and is relatively healthy, but also sweet.  I'll walk you through it.

Epiphany/Mardi Gras Bread

2 pkg (5 ½ tsp.) active dry yeast
¼ c. warm water
2/3 c. milk
½ c. sugar
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ c. butter
3 large eggs
4 c. flour (can be part or all whole wheat)
2 c. candied fruit, and/or raisins, and/or nuts

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with a tsp. of sugar and the salt.  Give it a few minutes to foam, and then mix in the eggs. In a small heavy saucepan, bring the milk, butter, salt, and sugar to a boil. Once it’s cooled a bit, add the milk mixture to the yeast mixture, along with the flour, and blend.

Add the 2 cups of candied fruit, nuts, and/or raisins—or leave them out. I’ve used candied ginger with great success, and I really like dried cranberries and pecans. You can use more gourmet items, like citron. Or use the candied fruits that make an appearance during the holiday baking season.

The dough will be very sticky; fortunately, you don’t knead it.

Simply let it rise. Grease 2 tube pans or bundt pans.

When the dough has doubled in size, spoon it into the pans. Let it rise again.

If you want to put prizes in the bread, you can do so before you put the bread in the oven. The traditional prize for Mardi Gras is a baby Jesus (if using plastic, stick him into the bread after baking). For Epiphany/Three Kings Bread, some bread bakers include a coin (wrapped in foil) that indicates good luck for the person who finds it. Some put a china baby into the bread. Other customs include a bean, a clove, a twig, a piece of rag. Some traditions have the person who finds the embedded item doing the clean up, some have the person hosting the next party in February at Candlemas or the next year's Mardi Gras party.

Bake at 375 for 25-35 minutes. The dough should be golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.

The bread is delicious plain:

but it’s also good with powdered sugar frosting or glaze.

For Mardi Gras, traditionally you’d sprinkle the icing or glaze with sugar colored purple, green, and/or yellow. 

You can make colored sugar easily at home by stirring food coloring into white granulated (table) sugar:

Based on a recipe found in Beatrice Ojakangas’ The Great Holiday Baking Book

And keep this bread in mind as Christmas rolls around; it's easy for gifts and a reason to celebrate Epiphany on January 6.

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