A dessert fit for royalty - JRs learn how to make a King Cake

YP ReporterVanessa Jim

YP junior reporters Vanessa Jim and Katniss Choi made King Cakes at Island Shangri-la hotel

YP ReporterVanessa Jim |

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Katniss Tsang(left) is trying to make patterns on the King Cake-to-be as Vanessa Jim(middle)and Alain Guillet look on.

What is King Cake?

Beginning in early January each year, Mardi Gras is a time for food and carnivals. Probably the most delicious tradition associated with the Christian festival is the King Cake, invented 300 years ago in France.

Christians believe wise men, or Magi, saw baby Jesus 12 days after he was born, on January 6. This special day has several names in the Christian faith, including Epiphany, Twelfth Night or King's Day.

A plastic baby Jesus is put in every King Cake. The lucky one who gets the slice with the plastic baby is expected to continue the festivities by having the next King Cake party - and so the tradition goes on. King Cake is available only in January so you'd better move fast if you want to try some!

The crowned King Cake
Photo: Tiffany Choi/SCMP

King Cake is about art

Stirring, rolling out and folding six times; these actions seemed repetitive and complicated to me as a newcomer to baking. But there are many more steps that go into making the tasty, crunchy, thousand-layer King Cake.

It's a good job we made King Cake in a professional kitchen or our hands may have needed physiotherapy afterwards! It was tough work stirring, rolling out and folding the pastry, but luckily we had the help of machines. I expected the process to be a workout, but actually making a King Cake is more about the art and finer details.

As we learned how to make the patterns on top of the cake, Island Shangri-la's pastry chef, Alain Guillet, made cutting those curved lines on top of the cake look like, well, a piece of cake.

However, when it was my turn, I realised it was difficult to control my hand to cut the lines. "Rome wasn't built in a day," I said while reminding myself I was just a beginner.

It's a good thing Alain was patient, as I often went too deep and destroyed the pattern. He helped and guided me through the pattern-making process, and I got there after four or five attempts.

My favourite part is the hidden secret: a tiny trinket. After taking the cake home, I enjoyed seeing my family and friends' surprise when they discovered the baby Jesus when they cut into the cake.

Go and find the cake before Mardi Gras is over! I bet you'll love it too.

Vanessa Jim

King Cake is about layers!
Photo: Tiffany Choi/SCMP

Making King Cake is complicated

Before the King Cake-making class, I had no idea what one was. It's actually a French dessert associated with the Christian festivals of Epiphany and Christmas. Traditionally, there's a little trinket baked inside. The one who finds it is crowned king or queen of that day.

Going to the Island Shangri-la for a King Cake masterclass was a wonderful experience. Vanessa and I got a chance to meet the hotel's pastry chef, or "chef pâtissier", Alain Guillet, and find out how the cakes are made.

The process involves many steps and ingredients to make the puff pastry, which must be prepared a day in advance. As the pastry has to be folded and refrigerated for two hours for six or more times, we didn't actually make the cake from scratch; we just got to try most of the steps and then sampled the finished creation: Vanessa's and Katniss' special edition of King Cake.

My hands shook during the last step: making the pattern on top of the cake, which involves cutting decorative lines with a knife. As well as the traditional curvy design, Alain also taught me how to do a different grid pattern.

After two hours in the kitchen, we finally tried the cake for ourselves.

Verdict? So good! Though I knew how much butter went into it, I couldn't resist having an extra slice. If you haven't tried King Cake yet, you better check it out soon - or you might need to wait until 2017.

Katniss Tsang