King Cake: A Mardi Gras MUST!
Well, hey there, blog-o-verse! Long time, no post. I know, I know…bad Kristine. I apologize and I will definitely make it up to you, starting right now with this king cake.
Before I get to the recipe, however, and in case you’re wondering, I have been baking over the last few months with every intent to update. Photographing my food has been a bit of a struggle for a number of reasons, including camera and lighting issues. That’s all fixed now, though! I got a brand new camera (a Sony A6000 mirrorless) and I researched artificial lighting options that look more natural. And so I am back, just in time for Mardi Gras season.
If you didn’t already know, Mardi Gras is HUGE here in New Orleans. We don’t just celebrate Mardi Gras day. Oh no! New Orleaneans know how to party, so we celebrate for weeks beforehand, starting with Epiphany on January 6th. Many people, myself included, buy their first king cake of the season that day.
Look at me getting ahead of myself. I should probably explain what a king cake even is. First of all, If you’ve ever seen a certain “semi-homemade” version on TV or happened across it on Youtube, that version is wrong on so many levels. King Cake is so much more than store bought breadsticks covered in canned cream cheese icing and sprinkles. So much more!
I like to think of it like a giant cinnamon roll covered in frosting and either sanding sugar or sprinkles. That’s typically, anyway. There are savory king cakes, but I’ve never actually had one of those because cinnamon sugar is way more my speed.
More particularly a king cake is made with an enriched dough, brushed with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. It’s then rolled up, baked, and covered in icing. Sometimes it’s cream cheese icing, sometimes it’s more of a water icing. It’s always delicious, though.
Like I said, king cake is essentially a gigantic cinnamon roll. Only way better, if I’m being totally honest, because a lot of the time the actual cake itself has a tasty filling, like cream cheese or pecan praline. There are also fruity fillings, if you prefer those. Just thinking about all the different kinds of king cakes there are makes my mouth water.
Right now there are king cakes everywhere around the city. Literally everywhere, y’all. I’m talking in Walmart, Walgreens, the grocery store, my office 2+ times a week . . . you get the idea. Some restaurants even go so far as to make king cake shakes.
Despite having bought many a king cake during my time living in New Orleans, I’d never actually made one until now. That’s not to say that I hadn’t ever thought about it. The work involved just seemed a wee bit daunting. But, hey! I’m getting a bit more confident in more complicated bakes, like bread, so I thought I’d finally give it a go when one of my co-workers asked whether I’d ever done so.
I, honestly, didn’t even have to think very hard about where to start. Paul Hollywood has a fantastic satsuma and chocolate brioche recipe that I have been obsessed with of late. It was the perfect jumping off point for a king cake because it, like many of the king cake recipes I’ve seen, has some kind of citrus flavoring to it and it’s a brioche.
This recipe is so simple. The dough comes together entirely in the mixer (no hand kneading!) and the bulk of the rising occurs in the fridge. It bakes up in less than a half hour. When it comes to a yeasted dough, it doesn’t get much easier than that.
What you’re left with when you’ve finished making this king cake is a bright tasting, citrus cake swirled through with layers of cinnamon sugar and covered in a vanilla flavored icing. Oh, and sanding sugar. You can’t forget the sanding sugar.
It’s a lot of sugar. And butter. And that is definitely not a bad thing, as long as you promise to share with some friends or coworkers. Because I guarantee you probably can’t eat this all by yourself. Okay, maybe you can, but you’d likely have a stomach ache after the fact and I don’t need that on my conscience. So, please, do not try to eat this all by yourself, but please do make it because you will not regret it.
Now, go forth and make yourself a king cake! I promise it’s not difficult.
Mardi Gras King Cake
A homemade take on a traditional king cake adapted from the Satsuma and Dark Chocolate Brioche in Paul Hollywood's Bread.
A note on this recipe: The original recipe is in metric and, like all the bread recipes I post, I'm going to keep it that way because it helps to make sure that your bread doesn't have texture issues.
- 250 g bread flour, plus extra for dusting
- 3 g salt
- 30 g granulated sugar
- 5 g fast-action (quick-rise) yeast
- 80 ml whole milk, room temperature
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- Finely grated zest of two tangerines, satsumas, or other small oranges I used two Cuties mandarin oranges
- Juice of one of your tangerines
- 130 g unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing
- 1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
- 75 g salted butter, softened
- 115 g granulated sugar
- 1 egg beaten with a small amount of milk
- Sanding sugar or Sprinkles in the colors of your choice
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tsps vanilla extract
- 3-4 tbsp milk or water (or enough to make a thin pancake batter consistency)
- Small plastic baby Optional
Fit your mixer with the dough hook, then measure the flour into the mixer bowl. Add the salt and sugar to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other side of the bowl.
Add the milk, eggs, zest, and juice to the mixer bowl and mix first one slow speed for one minute, then turn up the speed to medium for another 4 minutes.
After the dough has been mixing for a total of 5 minutes, begin adding the butter, a little at a time for the next 4-5 minutes. I suggest adding it one tablespoon at a time until the dough is shiny and elastic.
Transfer your prepared dough to a large, greased mixing bowl. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for at least 5 hours, preferably overnight.
Filling and Shaping
Prepare a large baking sheet by lining with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.
Remove the dough from the fridge and turn out onto a lightly floured counter. Roll the prepared dough into a large rectangle, approximately 13 x 9 inches.
Spread the remaining softened butter over the entire surface of the dough, followed by the cinnamon and sugar.
Starting with the long end of your dough rectangle, carefully roll the dough into a spiral, similar to the way you make cinnamon rolls. Pinch the dough to seal the seam.
This next bit of the shaping is entirely optional, but I think it adds a little extra bit of "Wow!" to the finished king cake.
Using a very sharp knife, slice the filled and rolled dough in half, lengthwise, then twist the two halves together. Try to keep the cut end up and your filling inside. It's tricky, I know. Hence, why this step is entirely optional.
Whether you cut the dough or not, join the two ends of the dough together to form a large ring and very, very carefully transfer to your prepared baking sheet.
Leave to prove in a warm place for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until at least doubled in size. It will be large!
While your king cake proves, preheat your oven to 395 degrees Fahrenheit.
Brush the king cake with the lightly beaten egg before baking for 20-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the thickest part comes out clean. Alternatively, the internal temperature should register at least 190 degrees when tested with a meat thermometer.
Remove the finished king cake from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Add in the milk or water a tablespoon at a time until you achieve the consistency of thin pancake batter. It should be thin enough to spread, but thick enough that it doesn't just bleed into the cake.
Spread the icing on over the entire king cake. Before it sets, sprinkle the top with your icing with sanding sugar or sprinkles. If you, like me, are going to use the traditional Mardi Gras colors of yellow, green, and purple, make sure to alternate between the colors.
If you've opted to, hide a small plastic baby in your cake. Make sure to tell whoever you offer the cake to that the baby's there, though. We don't want anyone to get hurt.
Whoever gets the baby in their piece has to buy or make the next king cake!