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It's Mardi Gras season!

Unfortunately, this is another Mardi Gras season I will spend away from New Orleans. All I can do to cheer myself up is look at my boxes of beads collected over the years and bake king cakes, which I enjoy very much with coffee and chicory.

(Adapted from "Jambalaya, 15th Anniversary Edition, A Collection of Cajun & Creole Favorites from The Junior League of New Orleans)
 Yields 2 cakes

1 stick (110 g.) plus 1 tablespoon butter, divided
2/3 cup evaporated or skim milk
1/2 cup sugar, divided
2 teaspoons salt
2 packages dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
4 eggs
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon orange zest
6 cups all-purpose flour

1 stick (110 g.) butter, melted
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, divided
6 tablespoons milk
food coloring (yellow, green and purple)
2 (3/4-inch) plastic babies, or 2 beans

Melt 1 stick butter in a saucepan. Stir in milk, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt. Cool to lukewarm. In a large mixing bowl, combine remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar, yeast and warm water. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes or until frothy. Beat eggs into yeast mixture. Beat in milk mixture and zests. Stir in flour, 1/2 cup at a time, reserving 1 cup. Spread reserved 1 cup flour over a smooth surface. Turn dough onto surface and knead for 10 minutes or until smooth. Grease a large mixing bowl with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Place dough in bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until doubled. Punch down dough and divide in half. On a floured surface, roll a dough half into a 15x30 inch rectangle. Brush with half of filling's melted butter. Cut into 3 lengthwise strips. Combine sugars and cinnamon. Sprinkle half of mixture on strips, leaving a 1-inch lengthwise edge free for sealing. Fold each strip toward the center, sealing the seam. You will now have three (30-inch) strips with a sugar filling enclosed in each. Braid the strips together and make a circle by joining the ends. Repeat with other half of dough. Place each ring on a 10x15 inch baking sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise 60 minutes or until doubled. Top by brushing with egg wash. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Remove from pan immediately. While still warm, place a plastic baby in each from underneath. While cooling, mix confectioner's sugar with milk. Using 3 ramekins, divide into 3 equal parts, and stir yellow, green and purple food coloring into each ramekin. Sprinkle colored sugar mixtures alternatively on top of cooled cakes.


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