King cake

Being snow bound storm bound and thinking about New Orleans and the Saints Super Bowl victory and Mardi Gras, I decided to whip up a king cake.

For the uninitiated, king cakes are part of the traditions leading up to Mardi Gras.  King cake parties in New Orleans are documented back to the eighteenth century.

The king cake of the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition comes in a number of styles. The most simple, said to be the most traditional, is a ring of twisted bread similar to that used in brioche topped with icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green, and gold (the traditional Carnival colors) with food coloring. There are several variants, some with a cream cheese filling.

One custom in the New Orleans culture is that whoever finds the trinket must provide the next king cake.  (Read a history of King Cake here.)

When you need a king cake…you need a king cake.

And they aren’t hard to get…we’ve ordered these from New Orleans…but the cost of the shipping near kills you.  Putting one together isn’t all that difficult. A few minutes of work and a couple of waiting periods for the dough to raise results in a sweet treat. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve made one of these confections, but I don’t make them regularly enough to have the recipe committed to memory. This meant I had to scramble through my notebooks and internet bookmarks to find the recipe (again).  Fortunately, there are several available on line.

Just remember, you can’t make and serve this before 12th night or after Mardi Gras.  But you still have time.

This is an excellent King Cake recipe, provided courtesy of Chef Emeril Lagasse.

  • 2 envelopes active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup warm milk (about 110°F)
  • 5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 4 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 plastic king cake baby or a pecan half
  • 5 tablespoons milk, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Purple-, green-, and gold-tinted sugar sprinkles

Combine the yeast and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the melted butter and warm milk. Beat at low speed for 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the egg yolks, then beat for 1 minute at medium-low speed. Add the flour, salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest and beat until everything is incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, forms a ball, and starts to climb up the dough hook. (If the dough is uncooperative in coming together, add a bit of warm water (110 degrees), a tablespoon at a time, until it does.)

Remove the dough from the bowl. Using your hands, form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl with the vegetable oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of the confectioner’s sugar. Blend by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed. Set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your fingers, pat it out into a rectangle about 30 inches long and 6 inches wide.

Filled, rolled and ready to rise.

Spread the filling lengthwise over the bottom half of the dough, then flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together. Shape the dough into a cylinder and place it on the prepared baking sheet seam side down. Shape the dough into a ring and pinch the ends together so there isn’t a seam. Insert the king cake baby or pecan half into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough.

Cover the ring with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Brush the top of the risen cake with 2 tablespoons of the milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the icing. Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons milk, the lemon juice, and the remaining 3 cups confectioner’s sugar in medium-size mixing bowl. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with the sugar crystals, alternating colors around the cake.

The finished product

Laissez le bon temps rouler!

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