Monday, January 31, 2011

The Game Changer: King Cake

It started about 4 weeks ago, on a seemingly benign trip to Whole Foods.

We'd made it through produce... past the meat counter... through the wine section... through dairy... and were rounding the corner to cut through the bakery to the checkout aisles.

And it happened.

Spotted: individually wrapped chunks of King Cake.

Before I could protest, Evs had 2 in the buggy.  Before supper was on the table, he'd downed both.

The next week, it was the same song and dance... King Cake --> Buggy --> Husband's Belly.

Soon it was Honey, can I have King Cake for my birthday?  And I was all But of course! I think I shall make one from scratch!  How hard can it be?!

Pretty Damn Hard, I quickly found out.  Any casual mention of my homemade King Cake aspirations to a Knowing Southerner got me the CHILD ARE YOU INSANE look and a frantic whisper of Haydel's!  Even the Evster mentioned perhaps ordering from a NOLA bakery... youknowjustincasesweetieiloveyou.

While ultimately undeterred, I admit to being intimated by the king of all cakes.  I do seem to have found my sea legs in the kitchen, but I'm no Betty Crocker.  Baking is most definitely not my forte... It's all a little too exact for me.  Plus, I couldn't quite find the perfect recipe for a "really cinnamon-y, cream cheesy, kinda praline-y but not" King Cake {because we're not picky or anything}.  But, bolstered by my recent success in bread-baking, and armed with inspiration from two of New Orleans' finest, I set out yesterday morning to summit King Cake Mountain.  

Five hours later... Let me tell you... You can't come back and top this.  It just doesn't get any better.  I might as well end my baking career here, with my one, brilliant, shinning moment.  That way, whenever I need the recycling taken out or the air filters changed, I can just screech KING CAKE! and the memory won't be marred by yet another batch of overcooked oatmeal cookies. 

Evs' Birthday - Really Cinnamon-y, Cream Cheesy, Kinda Praline-y But Not - King Cake:

Dough Ingredients
- 2 packets of active dry yeast
- 1/2 c. granulated sugar
- 1.5 sticks of butter, melted (but not hot)
- 1 c. milk, warmed (but again, not hot... about 110 degrees F)
- 5 yolks from large eggs, seperated
- 4.5 c. all purpose flour (I used unbleached) 
- 2 t. salt
- 1 t. nutmeg
- 1 t. cinnamon
- 1 t. lemon zest 
- 1 King Cake baby or dry kidney bean 
- 2 T. milk

1. Combine yeast and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Fit the stand mixer with a dough hook and slowly add melted butter and warm milk, mixing on the Low setting for 1 minute.  One by one, add the egg yolks to the bowl, mixing on Low for another minute.  

2.  In a separate mixing bowl, combine flour with salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon zest.  Incorporate flour mixture into wet ingredients bit by bit with the mixer setting still on Low.  Increase speed to Medium-High and beat until dough pulls away from the bowl and begins to climb the hook.  {If your dough is too dry, you can add warm water, 1 t. at a time, until it gets it's rear in gear.}

3.  Remove the dough from the mixer's bowl and form it into a ball with your hands, placing it into a large, lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with a clean dish towel (non-terrycloth) and set in a warm, draft-free place to rise for 2 hours.

Meanwhile... Make the filling...

Cream Cheese Filling Ingredients
- 16 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 c. confectioner's sugar
- 2 T. light brown sugar
- 2+ t. cinnamon
- 1 c. sliced almonds 

4.  Mix all filling ingredients together, save for the sliced almonds, with a hand or stand mixer.  Go put together some dining room furniture {that's what we did!}, go for a jog {that's what I should have done!}, or go watch back episodes of Modern Family {that's what I wanted to be doing!} while you wait some more on the dough to rise. 

5.  Using a long work space, roll out dough, folding and re-rolling into a skinny rectangle.  The width should measure around 6 or 7 inches {great tip: a pastry cutter is usually about 6 in long}.

6.  Spread cream cheese filling atop your dough-tangle. Add sliced almonds to bottom half and sprinkle {more} cinnamon over the almonds. 

7.  Fold dough in half, "hot-dog style," and pinch edges together... using a fork if you're feelin' fancy! 

8.  Form the dough into a ring and overlap the ends, attempting to give the shape continuity.  Insert your Baby (or kidney bean) into the ring from the bottom so that it is hidden from prying eyes.*  Set the dough aside once again for 45 to let it rise a second time.  At this point, your cake should be rising on / in it's cooking vessel.  Because my ring was rather wide, I used 2 cookie sheets, slightly overlapped and covered with parchment paper.  A pizza sheet would work great as well. 

*Full disclosure: I didn't put a baby in this sucker, since we aren't really celebrating Mardi Gras with it, and I didn't want to waste the one baby I have in case I take some crazy pills and stage an Act Two in March.  You can procure your own baby at Party City or order one online

While you wait... Make the glaze and the colored sugar...

Icing Glaze
- 3 c. confectioner's sugar
- 4 T. milk
- 1.5 t. Mexican vanilla extract
- 1 t. fresh lemon juice 
- 1 or 2 good shakes of cinnamon 

9.  Mix all ingredients together.  {Easy, yes?}

Colored Sugar
- 3/4 c. granulated sugar, separated into 3 parts
- red, yellow, green, and blue food coloring 

10.  In a small, covered tupperware or ramekin, vigorously shake together 1/4 c. of the sugar and food coloring to make each of the three Mardi Gras colors.  For green and yellow, use 4 drops of coloring at first, increasing by 1 drop until reaching the desired shade.  For purple, use 6 drops of red + 2 drops of blue. 

11.  After the second rising {45 minutes}, brush cake ring with 2 T. milk and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden brown.  {This was more like 45 minutes for me, even though my oven reads as properly calibrated.}  

12. Once cake has cooled completely, brush on glaze and sprinkle colored sugar to form stripes.  {Tip: "dress" the cake while still on the parchment paper.  Then transfer to a serving dish once the topping has set.}

13.  Inhale.  Invest in new pants.  Perhaps some with a stretchy waistband.  

Or share the love with coworkers.  And make them buy new pants.  

Either way, peeps are going to be impressed.  {Maybe not so much with your pants.}

Have you attempted any grand baking feats lately?  Ever made a King Cake?

** Notes:
- I promise you, if I can do this, you can do this.  It wasn't HARD - just time consuming.  All you really need is an obligation-free afternoon, a little patience, and the willingness to wash a lot of dishes.  
- Forming the dough into the ring and transferring the "dressed" cake to the serving platter are 2 steps that might require an extra set of hands.  
- With the cream cheese base, I think you could add lots of things to the filling... any nut you please, berries, caramel, chocolate, etc.  
- Next time {HA}, I'll rotate the cake halfway through the baking period. 
- Your kitchen floor will be covered in colored sugar.  I recommend a terrier for easy cleanup. 

Psssssst!  Never heard of King Cake?  Sad Panda!  Read up on this festive Mardi Gras tradition here


  1. zomg. I might have to try this! I've always been intimidated by the King Cake- you rock for successfully conquering what I have always viewed as a baking challenge!

  2. Thank you! I was hoping you would post this recipe. Mardi Gras is coming up and my coworkers will love this. :-)

  3. Nicely done! Love that you bedded The King.

  4. Yay for Kate the Baker! I've never had King Cake but it seems like pretty much the best thing ever. Not gonna lie, this Yankee is intrigued. Hope your husband had a good birthday!

  5. wow, lady! You're the best wife ever! that seems super difficult!

  6. That looks AMAZING. I tried to make one two years ago and am still scarred from it. Awful doesn't begin to describe it and I'm not a shabby baker.

  7. Simply amazing. It seems so overwhelming...I don't even know if I could find all the right ingredients to start...ha! I've never had king cake, but now I need/have to!

  8. I am so impressed! As the (somewhat proficient in the kitchen/ culinary student) wife of a Cajun with a fierce sweet tooth I have never once considered making a King Cake from scratch. Perhaps, now I should...

  9. I am impressed, lady! You must really love that husband of yours.

    Can you believe I've never had King Cake? And now I'm craving it.

  10. King Cake is in my Top Five favorite sweet treats! I have wanted to make one myself, and you have inspired me. My last never done it before baking experience was cheesecake for my then boyfriend! Believe me he got "cussed" from here to tomorrow! Haydel's has the best King Cake!

  11. YUM!!! I may go to Whole Foods right now. I saw the full size one last week and resisted. The cake does seem time consuming to make but I'm sure it was worth it!!

  12. I'm glad yours turned out so well- thanks for the link to my post. I'm going to have to bake one soon for the office- they won't know what hit them!

  13. I've never had a King Cake but that looks delicious. Nicely done! A Sunday afternoon baking which results in a yummy cake and a happy husband - sounds great to me!

  14. Evs is soooo freakin' happy!
    We have a sno-cone stand here with a King Cake sno-cone...they pour sweet condensed milk into the middle of it. YUM.

  15. I made a king cake in high school, but in Alabama we put gold, green and purple on our cakes. Let me just tell you that purple was not an easy color to achieve and it kinda melted away really fast. In fact by the time I got to school, it was more a brown color.

    I need to make one again.

  16. i'm impressed! i saw a kit while at world market and thought perhaps i should try it. but yours sounds better tahn the box variety!

  17. Evs looks so very happy--as well he should be!! Hope he still has a piece or two when his birthday rolls around this week. What a grand endeavor--I'm impressed!!

  18. so, do you put the baby inside the cake pre-baking? how do you keep it from melting? I think I need to make one!


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