It’s Carol’s turn with our Sunday family dinner. As a nod to Mardi Gras this next week, she plans to make jambalaya. I am looking forward to that. Since Carol is cooking, that means that I am up for dessert. There are lots of Louisiana desserts that would go with jambalaya, but King Cake seemed to be the most appropriate. King cake is a tradition in many parts of the world, but in Louisiana it is served across the state, starting on Epiphany (January 6th) and ending on Mardi Gras (this year, February 13). There are many versions of king cake. Some folks make rings of filled cream puffs; others make baked meringues, etc., etc. The most common version is a brioche-like sweet bread, often filled with raisins or other dried fruit. The cake is topped with icing and sprinkled sugars in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of green, yellow, and purple. I couldn’t find purple-colored sugar sprinkles, so I made do with red. I hope no one will notice. You can go all-out and fashion a “crown” of a circle of candied or maraschino cherries. The best part of the tradition, though, is finding the baby. A small plastic baby is hidden in the cake before it is baked. In the absence of the baby, a black bean will do. The person who gets the slice of cake with the baby (or bean) is supposed to have good luck. A less recognized part of the tradition is that the person is also supposed to bring the next king cake for the next celebration.
Interestingly, none of our many cookbooks from Louisiana contain a recipe for king cake. The recipe I have used is from King Arthur Flour. Laissez les bon temps rouler.
Mardi Gras King Cake
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
- ¾ cup lukewarm milk
- 2 large eggs + 1 large yolk, white reserved
- 3½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1¼ teaspoons salt
- 1 package (2½ teaspoons) fast rising yeast
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2½ tablespoons milk
- sparkling sugars – green, yellow, purple
- Add all of the dough ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low speed until a soft, silky, but sticky dough is formed. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
- Transfer the risen dough to a lightly oiled work surface. Shape the dough into a 24 inch x 6 inch rectangle. Let rest while you prepare the filling.
- In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and flour until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract and continue to beat until smooth.
- Transfer the filling to the middle of the rectangle of dough, leaving enough of the dough bare so that it can be pulled up around the filling and pinched closed. Before sealing the filling, position the baby or black bean in the filling.
- Transfer the filled and sealed dough rectangle to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Shape the dough into a circle, sealing the ends together. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise for 1 hour.
- Bake in the middle on an oven preheated to 350°F for 20 minutes. Then cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and let it firm up for 15 minutes before transferring it to a baking rack to cool completely.
- Beat together the icing ingredients. Pour or drizzle the icing over the completely cooled cake. Sprinkle the colored sugars in bands over the icing. Make a ring on top with the optional cherries if desired.