Let Them Eat King Cake

King Cake Iced

Growing up in Louisiana, Mardi Gras seemed like a magical time when adults dressed up in colorful costumes, parades filled every street, and leftover plastic beads and candies were evidence of the spectacles. Best of all, I was allowed to eat my weight in King Cake. To a five year old, King Cakes are like one gargantuan filled doughnut; deep-fried and drenched in icing so thick it would make my dentist pass out. There were many in depth conversations with peers on how the diminutive, plastic baby Jesus did not melt whilst being fried. The verdict was that the filling created a magical gooey force field around Jesus to protect him. That was enough to suffice my curiosity as it made complete sense.

As I now know, the cakes are baked, not fried and the plastic babies are inserted after the cake has baked and cooled… but I still like my childlike version better, and I am still convinced that the filling has magical powers. Ahem.

Here is my grownup version of King Cake, dough made by hand, meticulously braided and baked until beautifully golden brown, adorned with the traditional colors of Mardi Gras.

I also included step-by-step photos in the process of rolling out the dough, filling it and braiding it. I hope the photos help!

Recipe: Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

Makes 1 Braided King Cake

Filling:

Combine ½ cup of brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon in a bowl. Set aside.

Dough:

1 cup of warm water

1 package of dry yeast

2 tablespoons of sugar, divided

2 tablespoons of butter, melted, cooled, plus more for brushing

1 tablespoon of salt

3 cups of flour

1 egg, slightly beaten for egg wash

Combine water, yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer for 5-10 minutes to bloom. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar, butter, and salt and mix on low with dough hook attachment for a few seconds. Add half of the flour and continue mixing for a few more seconds until the mixture begins to combine, and then add the rest of the flour. The dough will start to come together and stick to the dough hook attachment. Transfer the dough into a large, butter-greased bowl and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour to double in size (I usually place the bowl of dough into an oven that has been preheated to 200 degrees and then shut off. It’s a warm place for the dough to rise on a cool day.)

King Cake Step 1

Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out until thin and slightly rectangular. Lightly brush the dough with melted butter, leaving a 2-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle half of the filling onto the dough.

King Cake Step 2

Roll the dough up tightly, longwise, beginning with the side closest to you (this step is a lot like making homemade cinnamon rolls.) Once the dough is in one long, snake-like shape, begin rolling the dough out with your palms gently until the length reaches about 2 feet. Cut the dough in half and continue with the other half.

Once you have 4 equal pieces of rolled dough, place 2 pieces of dough side by side, and then place the remaining dough in a tic-tac-toe format. Take the pieces of dough that are coming from the underneath of the center and cross it with the piece of dough to the right of it.

King Cake Step 4

Then, take the pieces that are now on the underneath and cross them with the piece to the right of it.

King Cake Step 5

Continue until you run out of dough and tuck the remaining stragglers on the underbelly of the dough.

King Cake Step 6

Place dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, lightly brush with egg was and let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Once the dough has risen, brush lightly with egg wash again and place in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until golden (if the bread browns too quickly, tent it with foil and let continue cooking.) Let cool while you prepare the icing (or if you don’t want to decorate the cake, EAT NOW!)

Baked King Cake

Icing:

3 cups of powdered sugar

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon of lemon juice

Purple, green and yellow food coloring paste

In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk all ingredients together until the mixture becomes glossy and stiff, about 1-2 minutes.

Divide the icing into 4 equal amounts in 4 separate containers. In one container, place purple paste into the icing and stir to combine. The intensity of the icing really depends on your taste, so you can make the colors as rich or as subtle as you like by adding more or less of the coloring paste. Continue the same way with the green and yellow, making sure the last container is left white.

Carefully fill the colored icing into individual sandwich-sized Ziploc bags. Push all of the icing to one side of the bag and snip the tip off with scissors. Decorate the king cake anyway you wish (just make sure that you sneak the baby into the cake before you ice it, then you can cover up your tracks with the icing!) I usually start with white as a base, then purple, green and finish with a pop of yellow! Have fun with it!

King Cake

 

Growing up, I believed everyone in the world celebrated Mardi Gras. I thought everyone had off for Mardi Gras holidays or as we religiously called it in our private school, “Hallelujah Holidays.” And I was shocked to know that the rest of the world was deprived of king cake, sha. King cakes are traditionally baked in a circular shape that represents a king’s crown. Hidden inside of each cake is a tiny, plastic baby that represents Jesus (don’t choke on baby Jesus, that’s bad luck). Whoever finds the baby is supposed to buy the next king cake and will have good fortune in the future. The colors purple, gold and green that are used to decorate the cake represent justice, power and faith. These cakes were the best part of Mardi Gras to me whenever I was little. We grew up Christian, not Catholic, so the only tradition that we were able to engage in was eating king cake. I loved finding the little baby inside these cherished cakes. When left alone, my sister, Hope, and I would try our hardest to dig in the cake with seamless efforts. Without much astonishment, we failed every time. Baby Jesus would not tolerate cheating apparently…

 Recipe: Serves 6

* This recipe calls for puff pastry instead of the traditional brioche bread recipe. Also, most king cakes use purple, gold and green colored sugars, but I use colored royal icing. The grocery store that practically all of my king cakes came from in southwest Louisiana, Market Basket, used icing instead of sugars to decorate their cakes.

Cake:

1 package of puff pastry, thawed

1 Tbs. of butter, melted

2 Tbs. of sugar

2 Tbs. of brown sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup of blueberry filling (if you use canned, I won’t tell a soul)

1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 4000

Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface. Lay two sheets of pastry side by side and crimp the two pastries together. Makes sure that there are no seams. Leaving a 3-inch border, brush the melted butter onto the pastry, and then sprinkle on both brown and white sugar. Layer the cinnamon on top of the sugars. Press down lightly with your fingers. Add the filling on top of the sugars and cinnamon. Starting with the end closest to you, gently roll the pastry up jellyroll style. Connect both ends together to form a circle with the pastry. Transfer to a cookie sheet layered with parchment paper. Brush egg wash onto the pastry and bake for 25 minutes or until brown. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before icing the cake.

To make the icing:

3 cups of powdered sugar

2 egg whites

1 tsp. of lemon juice

Purple, gold and green food gels

Combine the sugar and egg white in a mixing bowl with a whisk attachment. Whisk together until shiny and can hold its shape. Add the lemon juice (add more if the icing is too thick). Take 3 mugs and line them with Ziploc bags. Spoon 2 tablespoons of white icing in each mug. Add the 3 different color gels in the 3 individual mugs. Close the bags and mix the color into the icing until you have the desired hue.

Once the cake has cooled, put a thin layer of white icing. Push the icing to a corner of the bag and snip a tiny piece of the corner off. Gently squeeze the icing onto the cake, one color at a time until you have all 3 colors displayed onto the cake. Let the icing harden slightly before serving.