new sew mardi gras masks

By Mary Heyl

It’s the feast before the fast: Mardi Gras! The literal translation of this French term is “Fat Tuesday,” the day of celebration before the start of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and prayer before Easter Sunday. Even though Mardi Gras was Feb.13, here in Ellicottville, it’s celebrated at the end of winter during Winter Carnival Weekend! Make your own mask to wear to the Masquerade Party this Friday night and bake a delicious King Cake to celebrate Mardi Gras and the end of winter!

Decorative masks are central to traditional Mardi Gras celebrations and date back to the 19th century when the first official Mardi Gras parade was held in New Orleans. Since Mardi Gras is traditionally a carefree celebration before the solemnity of Lent, the masks have always allowed revelers to have fun and express themselves anonymously. Continue the mischievousness of the masks by making your own this weekend!

To get started, download a mask template: has some free templates to use. Once you have printed and cut out a template, cut out a rectangle of decorative faux-satin fabric and a rectangle of felt that are slightly larger than the mask. Place a two-sided fusible interface between the two pieces of fabric (right side out) and iron the pieces together.

Pin the mask template to the fabric and cut out the shape of the mask; use pinking shears to prevent fraying, if you like. Trace the eye holes on the felt side of the mask and carefully cut them out using sharp scissors. Apply Fray Check or a clear-drying craft glue to the cut edges to make sure they don’t fray.

Paint a wooden dowel and let dry. Wrap and glue a piece of felt around one end of the dowel and, once dry, glue it to the back of the mask. Use your imagination and decorate the mask with whatever you like! Try feathers, faux jewels, glitter glue, ribbon and more to make the mask your own (or to match the rest of your ensemble).

A Mardi Gras celebration would not be complete without a slice of King Cake, a tasty sweet bread that is meant to be eaten between Jan. 6 (Kings’ Day, in honor of the three wise men’s visit to baby Jesus) and Mardi Gras. Traditionally, the cake has a small plastic baby baked into it to symbolize baby Jesus, and whoever gets the slice containing the baby is “King for the day”!

In a large bowl, dissolve 2 packages (.25 oz each) of active dry yeast and ½ cup of white sugar in a large bowl with 1 cup of warm milk. Let stand until creamy (about 10 minutes). Stir 5 egg yolks and ½ cup of melted butter into the egg mixture. In a separate bowl, combine 4 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of salt, 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon of grated lemon zest. Beat the flour mixture into the milk/egg mixture one cup at a time.

When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, and place the dough in it and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume (about 2 hours).

In a small bowl, combine 1 package (8 oz.) of cream cheese and 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar. Mix well. In another small bowl, combine 2 more cups of confectioners’ sugar, ¼ cup of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of milk. Mix well and set aside.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Roll the dough out into a 6×30-inch rectangle. Spread the cream cheese filling across the center of the dough. Bring the two long edges together and seal completely. Using your hands, shape the dough into a long cylinder and place on a greased baking sheet, seam-side down. Shape the dough into a ring and press the baby into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough. Place a well-greased 2 pound metal coffee can into the center of the ring to maintain the shape during baking. Cover the ring with a towel and place in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove the coffee can and allow the bread to cool. Drizzle the cooled cake with the lemon/sugar glaze and decorate with candy sprinkles. Serve a slice to everyone and find out who is king for the day!