In the lead-up to Lent, Memphis-dwellers will be able to smell the delicious aroma of freshly baked “king cakes” lovingly baked by Father Ben Bradshaw.
The pastor from St. Michael Church in Memphis was actually once a French-trained chef. And inspired by the Gallic tradition of the king cakes, Fr. Bradshaw is using his skills not just to feed delicious treats to his parishioners, but also to raise much-needed money for St. Michael’s many ministries.
In an article in the Boston Pilot, the priest shared more information about the cake and its French tradition.
In line with the tradition of emptying cupboards of all our tasty favorites just before Ash Wednesday, the French king cake is filled with rich and delicious ingredients, including frosting and cream.
And, as Gallic cuisine demands, the baking of these intricate cakes requires technical know-how and a good understanding of the ingredients. As Fr. Bradshaw explains: “What makes a good pastry chef is being attentive to technique. For the French, technique is everything. You must be militant about the mixing of ingredients and mix them in a way that works. Otherwise, it won’t work.”
With this in mind, the priest rolls up his sleeves, along with 20 volunteers, to bake the cakes in the early hours of the morning. And the job is relentless with little room for any breaks. Yet the pastor is keen to share his know-how with others.
This year Fr. Bradshaw and his team will make around 700 cakes, all carefully prepped, shaped, cooked, filled, iced, and boxed up, ready to be sold to hungry church-goers. And all holding a wonderful little charm: a figurine of the Baby Jesus.
Custom states that the person who’s lucky enough to find a mini Jesus in their piece of cake will have good fortune throughout the year. They’ll also have to try their hand at baking a king cake for the following year’s Mardi Gras celebrations.
However, while the cakes might bring in some extra finance for the parish’s ministries, they have a greater purpose.
Fr. Bradshaw explained that he will often dine with parishioners at least five times a week. “It’s never like work. To me, it is very enjoyable, and teaches me a lot,” he said. “When you do that — 25 nights a month — you realize what people struggle with.”
As Fr. Bradshaw pointed out, “In the end, it’s not really about the king cakes. Food is a vehicle to build community and to connect with each other. We need other people — even more than we think we need them.”
If you’d like to try your hand at baking your own king cake today, it’s not too late! There are many options to choose from all over the internet; however this particular recipe has not only earned a 5-star rating, it’s also quite a simple version.