This year, in celebration of Mardi Gras, I am making cupcakes with colorful cream cheese icing for an event where everyone is expected to bring a dessert. Mardi Gras has been celebrated since the early beginnings of New Orleans and was originally a Catholic holiday of indulging in a rich meal before the beginning of Lent. Over time Mardi Gras has extended well beyond the Catholic religion and “Fat Tuesday.” Lots of revelry and fun for everyone. So my cupcakes are “in the spirit” of the Mardi Gras season.
The tradition of Mardi Gras was brought to the new world by French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Sieur de Bienville who landed near New Orleans on March 3, 1699. It was Lundi Tuesday. They held a small celebration and named the spot where they landed Point du Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras translates from French as “Fat Tuesday” and refers to a day of eating rich foods before the religious sacrifices associated with Lent beginning on Wednesday in the Catholic Church. This year Mardi Gras falls on March 5.Mardi Gras actually begins on January 6 or the Feast of the Epiphany in the Catholic Church and continues until the day before Ash Wednesday which begins Lent. For the public, Mardi Gras in Louisiana is associated with elaborate parades organized by secret societies or krewes which roll out on the weeks before Mardi Gras. Above is movie producer, Quentin Tarantino, celebrity in a New Orleans parade in 2014. For the krewes, Mardi Gras is associated with pageantry, costumes, balls and royalty of kings, queens and their courts.
One tradition of Mardi Gras is baking a rich pastry known as a King Cake which is sold in the weeks preceding Mardi Gras. The oval-shaped pastries (which symbolizes unity of faith) are iced in Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold and they are traditionally filled with cinnamon sugar or perhaps cream cheese. Now the variation of fillings are endless — so much creativity — such as a “Zulu King Cake” with chocolate icing and coconut. (Coconuts are thrown from floats during the Zulu Krewe parade in New Orleans.).
Capitalizing on the Mardi Gras industry, other dessert ideas are emerging. Blue Bell Ice Cream Company is selling Mardi Gras King Cake Ice Cream this year throughout the Southern states. It’s a cinnamon and almond flavored ice cream with a swirl of green-colored cream cheese, purple sprinkles and bits of king cake thrown in. Rich and sweet and goes well with my cupcakes.
I’ve tried out many cupcake recipes and variations. The cupcakes that I like the best are made with Swans Down brand of cake flour. The cupcakes are tender, light and airy.
The recipe is the same as a recipe for a homemade cake; these really aren’t difficult to make. Just use an electric mixer and have a little patience. Cream softened butter (not melted), sugar and eggs until light and airy. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and alternate adding with the milk. Don’t forget to add in the flavor extracts — vanilla and almond. Just don’t over mix the batter — mix only until the flour is blended in. It is exciting to make something homemade, yes? Everyone should know the “art of cooking” and baking.
I had Swans Down cake flour on hand in my kitchen cabinet. This flour is low in gluten and is especially made for baking cakes. I highly recommend using it. All-purpose flour can also be used — you just need a little less flour in the batter. I tried recipes on the back of the Swans Down flour box and also a recipe from an old Betty Crocker cookbook labeled “their best cake recipe.” Both turned out well. The recipe I included is adapted from the back of the Swans Down box and makes 12 cupcakes.
The icing I used is a cream cheese icing — although a simple confectioner’s sugar glaze would be tasty, too. I used purchased sprinkles in Mardi Gras colors which are purple, green and gold. These colors date back to 1872 and the first Rex Krewe organization and their inaugural parade. The organization asked that banners be draped from balconies in these colors. No one seems to know how the colors were chosen; but they have “stuck” all these years.
“Down in New Orleans
Where the blues was born
It takes a cool cat to blow a horn
On LaSalle and Rampart Street
The combo’s there with a mambo beatThe Mardi Gras mambo, mambo, mambo
Party Gras mambo, mambo, mambo
Mardi Gras mambo, ooh
Down in New Orleans….”
Mardi Gras Mambo Cupcakes
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened — but not melted
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1-1/2 cup Swans Down cake flour
- 1-1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 1 recipe cream cheese icing
- purple, green and gold sprinkles
Method and Steps:
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Place 12 cupcake liners in cupcake tin (made for 2-1/2″ liners).
- Cream softened butter in large bowl of electric mixer on medium speed.
- Gradually add sugar, creaming until light and airy.
- Add eggs, one at a time, to creamed mixture beating well after each addition.
- With sifter, sift together Swans Down cake flour, baking powder and salt.
- Add flour mixture to batter alternating with milk, beginning and ending with flour blending well after each addition. Add vanilla and almond extracts. Do not over-beat the batter or it will result in tough cupcakes.
- Using small measuring cup, scoop batter into lined cupcake tins, filling 2/3 full.
- Bake in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven, let set 10 minutes, then remove from cupcake tin and cool to room temperature.
- Ice with cream cheese icing and shake on colored sprinkles. Do not shake off excess sprinkles.
Cream Cheese Icing
- 1 (3 oz) package cream cheese
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp Amaretto, plus more if needed.
- 2 cups powdered sugar
Method and Steps:
- Allow cream cheese and butter to set at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- In small bowl of electric mixer, cream the cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract and Amaretto until light and fluffy.
- Gradually beat in powdered sugar. If too thick, add Amaretto, 1 tsp at a time to reach desired consistency.