Yesterday I helped my friend Lindsay and her adorable little sous chef, one year old Caroline, assemble and bake seven king cakes for her church. You read that correctly, SEVEN. If anyone is up for the challenge, it is Lindsay and I arrived to a fully prepped kitchen. I also try to make as much as I can beforehand when I have to bake for an event and Lindsay was prepared. She doubled the batch of filling, made the buttermilk glaze on Sunday, and had a double batch of the dough sitting to rise when I arrived at her place. To be honest, I could have eaten the filling by itself – it had cinnamon and a hint of lemon zest, two of my favorite things. We also made one batch of the filling nut-less for those that have allergies.
I have included photos below and a step by step tutorial. Oddly enough, Lindsay commented today that the dough we had set aside from each round ended up making a great spare cake. So if you attempt to make your own king cake, save the middle circle portions! She left it un-iced and ate it as coffee cake. If you only make one king cake, which most of you that attempt this will do, you can use your leftover circle for a hand pie – fill it with spare filling, crimp the corners with a fork, brush with butter and bake.
Before we get to the recipe, here is a little background history on Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday. The Mardi Gras season begins on January 6th, which Christians refer to as the Epiphany. Epiphany is Greek for “to show.” Jesus first showed himself to the three wisemen and to the world on this day.
To celebrate this Holy Day, a tiny plastic baby is placed inside each King Cake. We hid the baby in the cake AFTER baking because baking plastic made both of us nervous. No one wants a mishap to happen to baby Jesus. Also, if you’re wondering where you can find tiny plastic babies, look no further than Hobby Lobby. I will refrain from any jokes, comments, or snide remarks, but now you know.
The king cake is traditionally decorated in royal colors of purple (justice), green (faith), and yellow (power). These colors also signify the crown honoring the Wise Men. The person that finds the baby is named “King” for a day and provides the king cake next year. Mardi Gras is always the day before Ash Wednesday and 46 days before Easter.
Recipe via Saveur
For the Dough
2 cups confectioners’ sugar + 1⁄4 cup buttermilk
*Whisk together the sugar and buttermilk in a small bowl until smooth. Also, we probably doubled the amount of confectioners’ sugar to get it to the right consistency to stay on the cake. Otherwise, it is too runny.
Make the dough: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a hook, combine yeast, 1⁄2 tsp. of the sugar, and 1⁄4 cup water heated to 115°. This is important – if the water is too hot, it can kill the yeast. If it is not hot enough, the yeast will not foam. Stir to combine and let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add remaining sugar, milk, light brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk. Beat on low speed until thoroughly combined, 1 minute. Turn mixer off and add flour and salt. Mix on medium speed until the dough just comes together. Turn mixer speed to high and knead dough for 4 minutes.
Add the butter and continue kneading until dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 6 minutes. Remove bowl from mixer, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit until doubled in size, 1 1⁄2–2 hours.
Make the filling: Combine cream cheese, brown sugar, pecans, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and zest in a large bowl and beat on medium speed of a hand mixer until combined; set aside.
Punch down dough and turn it out onto a heavily floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a large circle, about 1⁄4 an inch thick. Cut a hole in the center of the circle and pull with your fingers to widen. Place dollops of filling evenly around circle halfway between outer edge and inner hole. Drape outside edges over filling and continue rolling outside inward until filling is covered, widening inner hole as needed, until dough covers the seam.
Transfer rolled dough circle to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour. Heat oven to 350°. Uncover cake and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely.
Transfer king cake to a cutting board or serving platter; pour the glaze over the top of the cake and sprinkle evenly with sanding sugars, alternating colors.
A good reminder for Fat Tuesday and everyday. Get out there and live a little.