I live in Louisiana…and I’m only living there for three years, so naturally I am trying to enjoy as much of the culture and food (mostly food) that I can (and hopefully not gain 50 pounds) in that short time.
My first king cake
Last year, for Mardi Gras, I sampled several different traditions, traveling to New Orleans for a parade (and some disgusting Bourbon Street drinks), to Eunice for a courir de Mardi Gras (check out the Mardi Gras episode of ‘Treme’ to see what this is) and some of the best boudin and gumbo I’ve ever had, and enjoyed several parades in Baton Rouge (nothing beats the house parties at the Spanish Town parade for proper Louisiana hospitality). This year, I’ve been focusing on a very important tradition: the king cake. I’ve tasted king cakes from about six different bakeries and grocery stores around Baton Rouge (have not yet had Ambrosia bakery’s cake, which I’ve heard is good, but so far the winner is Calandro’s). But more importantly, I’ve been learning to make king cake, so as to keep it around for years to come after I’ve moved away from Louisiana.
I’ve mostly followed a recipe from epicurious (King Cake), with a few modifications, so I’ll give my modified version:
For the cake:
- 1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°F
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast
- 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup melted butter
- 5 egg yolks, beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh orange zest
- 3 teaspoons cinnamon
- Several gratings of fresh nutmeg
For the icing:
- 1 cups powdered sugar
- 3 oz cream cheese (cold)
- 1 tablespoon butter (room temperature)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- Purple, green, and gold decorative sugars
- 1 fève (fava bean) or plastic baby to hide in the cake after baking
1. For the cake, pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.
braided dough, rising
2. Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix the cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl. Add the remaining flour, and one teaspoon of the cinnamon/nutmeg mixture and fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a large rubber spatula.
3. After the dough comes together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl (if necessary add a little flour so the dough doesn’t stick), shape it into a large ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes. Flatten and cover with the remaining cinnamon/nutmeg mixture. Fold a few times to include, and shape into a ball.
4. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a draft-free place to let it rise, for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.
cake 2, the “filled” one, just out of the oven
5. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough between your palms into a long strip, making 3 ropes of equal length. Braid the 3 ropes around one another and then form the braided loaf into a circle, pinching ends together to seal. Gently lay the braided dough on a nonstick cookie sheet and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 40 minutes.
6. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Once it’s doubled in size, place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake until the braid is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
7. For the icing, while the cake is cooling, whisk together the powdered sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a bowl until the icing is smooth and very spreadable.
8. Once the cake has cooled, spread the icing over the top of the cake and sprinkle thickly with purple, green, and gold decorative sugars while the icing is still wet. Tuck the fève or plastic baby into the underside of the cake and, using a spatula, slide the cake onto a platter.
Super Bowl King Cake
- Depending on the humidity, this cake can vary significantly. It needed significantly less flour, didn’t rise as much, and was dryer when I made it in Wisconsin rather than Baton Rouge. If you are making it in a dry place, keep a close eye to make sure it doesn’t dry out too much.
- The original recipe incorporates all of the cinnamon/nutmeg before kneading. I like this version better, because it makes the cinnamon swirled through the cake and the outside stays a little lighter and more even color.
- I’d really like to work out a filled version of this cake, but given my lack of experience with filled pastries, and a lack of recipes for king cakes online, I haven’t found a successful version yet. I tried using a filling recipe for a cream cheese pastry (modified from this recipe from cooks.com). My recipe was 1 egg yolk, 3 oz cream cheese, 1/2cp sugar, and a splash of vanilla, then before braiding the dough, flatten the three pieces, spread filling on top, and pinch dough closed around it. This made a delicious cake (this was probably the best one I’ve made!), but the filling kind of soaked into the cake and did not give the distinct filled pastry texture I was hoping for. I might try again (I suspect part of the problem could be just not enough filling), but I suspect this is just not quite the right kind of filling to make it work. If anyone knows a good filled king cake recipe, please share!