EPIPHANY AND THREE KINGS CAKE, CIAMBELLE, & LEMON SUGAR COOKIES

All you Episcopal Church clergy with ears to hear, listen up – many of you are mostly doing Epiphany wrong. Here’s how I know this: I’ve been a confirmed and active member of the Episcopal laity for almost twenty-two years, I’ve been a feast-day blogger for going on six years now, Epiphany is one of my favorite Holy Days, I follow a multitude of y’all on social media, AND YET, I still didn’t know until I began my research for this post that Epiphany celebrates THREE aha moments of Christ being made known to the world — not just the Visit of the Magi, but also Jesus’s First Miracle at the Wedding at Cana, as well as Jesus’s Baptism in the Jordan River. My point is, you need to be better teachers about Epiphany and not take for granted that just because Jesus’s Baptism is the Gospel reading on the first Sunday after Epiphany and the Wedding at Cana is the Gospel reading on the second Sunday after Epiphany every three years, during the liturgical season of Epiphany, that we’re all just gonna pick up this fact through osmosis. We need these things spelled out for us.

Furthermore, if you celebrate the Feast of Epiphany on any day other than January 6, then you’re doing it wrong. Finally, the liturgical Season of Epiphany, or Epiphanytide, begins on January 6 and ends on Ash Wednesday. Don’t treat it like Ordinary Time. In the Episcopal Church, it’s Epiphany all the way up to Lent.

What’s that you say? I don’t have the authority to speak such? Hmmmm, pretty sure my authority to speak comes with my Episcopal laity status.

Besides, the Season of Epiphany is listed on the Calendar on page 31 in The Book of Common Prayer. Also, there’s a lovely Preface for the Season of Epiphany on page 378:

Because in the mystery of the Word made flesh, you have caused a new light to shine in our hearts, to give the knowledge of your glory in the face of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

I will add that sometimes errors are included in published books. Editors can’t always catch everything.

Also, why would you go out of your way to refer to a time loaded with miracles, inspiration, and transformation as “ordinary?”

(Updated thoughts on this topic: 1/1/2020

Really. If anyone wants to celebrate Eipiphanytide as another Ordinary Time on the Liturgical Calendar, have at it. There’s too much really horrible shit going down in the world right now to even have this debate. I ask only that as clergy in The Episcopal Church, you remember that we are the denomination most open to interpretation. As such, never, EVER, mock people from the pulpit just because you have a different interpretation than your congregation. We are not two-year-olds, you do not know everything. Also, if you do mock parishioners in ANY way from the pulpit, you’re a spiritually abusive narcissist. Get out of my Church leadership. And, seek counseling. I recommend EMDR therapy.)

Epiphany is celebrated BIG TIME in most Christian Churches and in a variety of ways throughout the world.

Eastern Churches loves Epiphany so much that it’s the date they celebrate the birth of Christ, as in not on December 25 or Christmas. They use the word Theophany which is ancient Greek for “the appearance of a deity to humans.” They commemorate the Visit of the Magi, Jesus’s Baptism, and Jesus’s First Miracle as Western Churches do, but they also commemorate the Adoration of the Shepherds at the Manger by honoring separately these lowly (social-status-wise) people to whom the Angels shared their glorious news. Let’s look at each passage and zoom in to their It’s Christ on Earth! moment.

The aha moment for the shepherds and for Mary and Joseph is bolded below (I love this passage.):

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah (Christ), the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace and good will among people.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. — Luke 2:8-20

The Visit of the Magi is next. Here’s what we need to know about these guys — nothing in the gospels names them or refers to them as “kings.” They were wise men, or magi, from the East, most likely astrologers or sorcerers. Later writings and oral traditions counts, names, and assigns them their gifts to the Blessed Babe – Caspar brought gold, Bálthasar brought frankincense, and Mélchior brought myrrh:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. — Matthew 2:1-12

When I look back in my archives, I see that I often write from the point of view of the those in the gospels who were with Jesus, and not so much from the point of view of Jesus Himself. Writing directly about Jesus and His perspective in certain situations is something I previously haven’t felt qualified to do. But, epiphany, it’s something I wanted to do and will practice doing in the future. Anyway, here’s the passage about Jesus’s Baptism from my St. John the Baptist post:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” — Matthew 3:13-17

No time like the present. I’m just gonna go for it. Right now. Without stalling. Here goes — Remembering that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate but also a human being with real feelings, imagine how he must have felt to see and hear his Heavenly Father’s approval of him and his works. The absolute knowing of something that before may have only been an inkling is a powerful experience that changes everything. It happened for me on May 10, 2017 when Jesus graced me with an absolute knowing that He’s been right here with me all along, and it feels incredibly good.

The Wedding at Cana from Blessed Mother Mary’s perspective was my first Saints and Recipes post on April 15, 2012. There’s got to be an epiphany in that fact somewhere. Eh, maybe it’s just a connection. Or maybe, the epiphany is that all these connections I write about are real and valid and worthy of discussion. Ah ha.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’s mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’s mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water;” so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. – John 2:1-12

In the most basic sense, the bolded sentences in each of the four passages above are Epiphany. Everything else is gravy, or icing, as the case may be. But, before we get to the cake, let’s learn the code for chalking our doorways for our Epiphany blessing.

First of all, there are twelve days of the Christmas Season. Some secular folks, especially those in the retail trade, refer to the approximate month before Christmas as the Christmas season, but that’s really the Season of Advent. So, beginning on the Twelfth Night (Epiphany Eve) or January 6 (Feast Day of Epiphany), or really any time during the Season of Epiphany, it’s tradition to bless our homes either directly with a visit from our priest, or by ourselves using chalk that has been blessed and distributed by our priest at church.

Instructions are usually included with the chalk, but just for fun, here’s the code — 20 t C t M t B t 18. The 20 and the 18 are for this year, 2018. The t’s or crosses stand for Christ. And the C, M, & B stand for the Magi – Caspar, Mélchior, and Bálthasar. CMB is also the abbreviation of the Latin blessing Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless this house.” So cool! This tradition also harkens back to Exodus in the Old Testament when the Israelites marked their doors so that the Angel of Death would Passover them in Egypt.

Here’s a prayer to add to the ceremony:

May all who come to our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us; and may we seek and serve, in everyone we meet, that same Jesus who is your incarnate Word, now and forever. Amen.

God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only-begotten One to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. We ask this through Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Loving God, bless this household. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness, and abiding in your will. We ask this through Christ our Saviour. Amen. — Chalking of the Doors

And now for cake!

Three Kings Cake goes by many names, such as King Cake in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Bolo Rei in Portugal; Roscon de Reyes in Spain and Galette des Roi in France. In Greece, it’s called, Vasilopita and is usually served on New Year’s Day. In Ireland, it’s called Barmback and is served on All Hallows’ Eve. In Italy, a similar bread-type cake baked without a plastic choking hazard (because Italians are the smartest) called Panettone is served throughout the Christmas and Epiphany seasons.

In the Americas and Canada, immigrants or descendants of immigrants from these countries do their relatives and ancestors proud with the baking and serving of these delicious cakes.

In the United States, we have the Southeastern, or Gulf Coast Region, from the Florida Panhandle to East Texas, where the Season of Epiphany is also known as Carnival. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday) but also refers to the two-week period (Shrovetide) leading up to Ash Wednesday when New Orleans holds parades and parties every day. It’s an, to put it in preschool parent parlance, over-the-top celebratory time dedicated to the shaking of one’s wiggles out before the start of the serious and sacrificial time of Lent.

According to tradition, people can hold Three Kings Cake or King Cake parties any time during the Season of Epiphany (Carnival). However, in New Orleans, most of the King Cake parties take place during the two-week period of Mardi Gras.

Whatever the cake is called and whenever it’s served, tradition includes the baking of a tiny plastic baby Jesus or a secular toy within the cake. Whichever guest finds the prize without choking to death receives extra blessings and the honor of hosting next year’s party or bringing the cake.

The choking hazard aspect freaks this mama right out. In fact, many bakeries agree with me, and now sell their Three Kings Cake with the toy packaged on the outside of the cake. Phew.

Not that I needed their professional validation, but I’m glad they’ve caught on. This, in fact, was a recent epiphany for me. I can totally share the recipe for this cake without the choking hazard. I don’t have to do it the traditional way because this is my blog, and I can do it any way I want. Ah ha and ta da!

THREE KINGS CAKE SANS CHOKING HAZARD

The colors of the sprinkles are the official colors of Mardi Gras created in 1872 by the Krewe of Rex, a.k.a. King of the Carnival — green for faith, gold for power, and purple for justice.

Cake

1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) dry active yeast

½ cup hot water

1 teaspoon sugar

16 ounces sour cream

1/3 cup sugar

¼ cup (4 TBS) butter

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 large eggs

About 6 ¼ cups bread flour

About 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil for greasing

1/3 cup (5 ¼ TBS) butter

½ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon clove

1/8 teaspoon allspice

Icing

1 cup confectioners sugar

1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice

1 ½ teaspoons milk

¼ teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon hot water

Purple, green, and gold sugar sprinkles

Heat water in a small pot on stove until temperature reaches about 105 degrees F. (Use a candy thermometer to check temperature.) Pour ½ cup into liquid measuring cup. Add yeast. Stir. Add sugar. Stir. Wait ten minutes until a thick layer of foam forms on top to prove that the yeast is alive and ready for action.

Meanwhile, place sour cream, 1/3 cup sugar, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir until butter melts. Set aside to cool down to less than 105 degrees F.

Combine sour cream mixture, yeast mixture, eggs, and 2 cups flour at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Reduce speed to low and gradually add remaining flour until a soft dough forms.

Sprinkle some flour onto a clean, flat surface. Place dough on flour and sprinkle some flour on top of dough. Knead (squish, mash, push, pull) the dough for 9 minutes. If hands get too sticky, “wash” them with a little flour.

Place dough in a large glass or oven-safe bowl coated with oil. Roll dough ball around until it’s coated with oil. Cover bowl with a damp towel.

Heat oven to “warm,” or 200 degrees F, place bowl in oven, then TURN OVEN OFF. Proof until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Once the dough has risen, “wash” hands in oil then punch dough down to remove the air. Divide dough in half.

On a floured surface, roll each portion with a rolling pin into a 22 x 12-inch rectangle. Spread softened butter evenly on each rectangle, leaving a 1-inch boarder. Stir together brown sugar and spices. Sprinkle evenly over butter on each rectangle.

Roll up each dough rectangle, starting at a long side. Place one dough roll, seam side down, on a parchment paper-covered baking sheet. Bring ends of roll together to form an oval ring, wet with a little water and pinch edges together to seal. Repeat with second dough roll.

Place in warmed but still OFF oven to proof again, about 30 minutes or until double in size.

Without removing baking sheets, heat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for about 17 minutes until golden. (Account for the quirks of your oven. For example, mine won’t let me bake two trays at a time without burning whichever is on top.)

Mix icing while the cakes bake — Combine confectioners sugar, lemon juice, milk, and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer, adding drops of hot water until smooth. Set aside.

When golden, remove baking sheets from oven and place onto wire racks. Gently spread or drizzle icing onto hot/warm cakes. Shake sprinkles quickly and carefully onto the melting icing in alternating colors to form bands before icing hardens. After about 7 minutes, slide cakes directly onto wire racks to finish cooling. Slice to serve.

Store cakes open to some air so that the icing remains solid.

Bonus Material:


My The Episcopal Church credentials
Such as they are, but there it is.

Bonus Material Recipe:

You know, I was teasing about Italians being the smartest. But, I gotta tell you, my Italian grandmother, Antoinetta Nolletti, was really smart. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t the only Italian grandmother who did this smart thing — she prepared the same festive foods and desserts for most of the feast days and celebrations. Stick with what works and what people enjoy. Plus, any excuse to make the good stuff, right?

Grandma baked ciambelle for Epiphany. She may or may not have changed the color of the sprinkles. I remember her being partial to rainbow sprinkles, probably because they were all the colors, thereby suiting all occasions. We can totally use Epiphany/Mardi Gras colors with these cookies as I did here for the youth at our community’s Police Athletic League’s Teen Night on Epiphany:

Cookies are easier to share than cake and baking POWDER is an easier rising agent to work with than yeast. Here’s Nettie’s Ciambelle recipe. Enjoy!

Full Disclosure Bonus Material:

Here’s a photo of the exact moment I heard that the Police Athletic League’s Teen Night on the Feast Day of Epiphany was canceled due to frigid temperatures and dangerous road conditions.

Good thing Epiphanytide is a season and that freezers were invented.

Second Bonus Material Recipe, 1/1/2020:

If you swap out the butter for a vegan alternative, these are a yummy dairy free cookie!

LEMON SUGAR COOKIES

1 cup (2 sticks) butter (or substitute)

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 TBS fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh-grated lemon zest

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking POWDER

3/4 teaspoon salt

Green, gold, and purple sugar sprinkles

Place butter and sugar in large bowl. Beat with electric mixer until blended and creamy.

Add egg, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Beat until combined.

In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to wet ingredients and mix.

Separate dough into two halves. Wrap in plastic wrap, then flatten into one-inch thick disks. Let rest in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Overnight, or up to three days, is fine. Just let dough warm up at room temperature for about 15 minutes or so before rolling out.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Spread flour onto a clean surface. Roll dough with rolling pin to about 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle flour on top and bottom of dough to prevent sticking, as needed.

Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and transfer to cookie sheet with spatula. Dip your finger tips in a cup of room temperature water and wipe each cookie lightly. Sprinkle with colored sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 11 minutes or until edges turn lightly golden.

Cool cookies completely on cookie sheet before transferring onto serving plate or gift container.

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12 Responses

  1. Beth Pottle says:

    I like having your blog delivered to my email. Thanks!

  2. Liz Myers says:

    I don’t see yeast in the list of ingredients. How much do you use?

  3. Milli Hayman says:

    The ingredient list omits the yeast. One packet?

  4. linda says:

    Sweet baby Jesus. I am from New Orleans and still live 10 minutes outside of it so essentially I live in New Orleans, but Jefferson Parish. It would be an abomination to put pumpkin pie spice and sour cream in a King Cake. It is not a king cake with anything pumpkin in it. But I did love reading your blog! Down here we let someone with a bakery bake them-there are different versions, but essentially the same-and NEVER any pumpkin pie spice. There is even a King Cake Festival judging the best bakery’s king cake. Happy Mardi Gras-we eat King cake all year long. They make them after Mardi Gras in the shape of a fleur de lis and put black and gold sprinkles-for the New Orleans Saints who are not listed on the bracket.

    • Maria Virginia Ross says:

      Hahahahaahahaha Okay. Well, mine is a VERSION of King Cake, mostly it’s Three Kings Cake in honor of the Three Kings of Epiphany, so it’s only MOSTLY a King Cake. There’s no pumpkin in Pumpkin Pie Spice, it’s cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. I’m glad you enjoyed reading my blog. I enjoyed reading your comments! Go Saints!

  5. linda says:

    P.S.-the choking hazard has been enlarged this year or sometimes put under the cake for someone to place in the cake knowing where it is. Or when my children were little I made sure that if they got the baby I got it 1st and let them think they had it all along.

    • Maria Virginia Ross says:

      Right, that’s what I read about the bakeries selling the cakes with the toy packaged on the outside so that the game is played with intention thereby cutting the possibility of accidental choking to death during dessert. Thanks for the inside report from New Orleans! Happy Mardi Gras!

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