Monday, March 10, 2014

Mardi Gras King Cake

Even though I've never been to New Orleans I've always wanted to. I feel that if I make a popular cuisine from a particular region then I'm that much closer to what it's like to actually being there (especially considering most of my vacations are based on where to get good food!).
King Cake is infamous for Mardi Gras. It's more of a bread than a cake and it's basically a giant cinnamon roll. I tested this on my friend who adores King Cake, New Orleans and Mardi Gras and I knew she would be my biggest critic or champion, depending on the outcome. Thankfully she loved it and said it was very moist compared to the one's she's previously tried.
I think the moistness has something to do with the combination of ingredients in the recipe. It's basically a brioche bread dough filled with a cinnamon sugar pastry cream and then drenched with a cream cheese frosting. So yes, lot's of eggs, milk and very little flour = a moist King Cake!
Living in the Northeast I had never even heard of King Cake until I was an adult. Regardless, I think this could really be the star if you're hosting a brunch or tea party- this is not an exclusive Mardi Gras treat (although the colors and hidden plastic baby are- read recipe notes for more info).
chilled dough
braided and baked
the finished product!
Mardi Gras King’s Cake

Recipe from here
Serves 10-15

Recipe Notes:
- For the dough, the recipe calls for instant yeast but all I had was dry-active yeast. I think it worked fine, but I don’t think it rose as much. Still a perfectly fine substitute if that’s all you have.
- I rarely have buttermilk in my house so I typically make a sour milk mixture- for this recipe I did ½ Cup of milk + ½ tsp. white vinegar then I let the mixture sit for a few minutes.
- You’ll notice the ingredients for the cinnamon filling pastry cream are divided because some of the ingredients (like the cinnamon & sugar) don’t get added until a later time. Just read the recipe thoroughly before making this.
- For the cinnamon sugar if you don’t have Turbinado sugar I think brown sugar would be an easy swap and no one would notice the difference.
- King’s Cake usually has a plastic baby, bean or nut hidden underneath the cake. Basically whoever gets that piece is required to bring the cake to the next celebration. I used a pecan (because that’s much more forgiving to bite into than a plastic baby!) but you could forgo the whole thing if you’re using this in a non-Mardi Gras way. Same thing goes for the purple, green and gold/yellow sprinkles- these are required colors for Mardi Gras, any other function and you can do whatever colors you want.  

3 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. butter, softened
1 large egg
1 1/3 Cup plus 1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. instant yeast
½ Cup buttermilk (or sour milk- see note above)

Cinnamon filling pastry cream:
1 Cup milk, divided
¼ Cup granulated sugar, divided
1 Tbs. cornstarch
5 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 Tbs. ground cinnamon
¼ Cup granulated sugar

Cinnamon Sugar:
½ tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
2 Tbs. sugar in the raw (aka Turbinado sugar- see note above)

1 Cup powdered sugar
2 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 tsp. milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Garnish (see note above):
Purple, green & gold/yellow colored sugars for garnish
Plastic baby, nut or bean

For the Dough and assembly of cake:
1. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix all the ingredients, for the dough, on medium speed.
2. Scrape down the bowl and continue mixing for 10-15 minutes on medium speed. The dough should be silky, supple and tacky. You may need to sprinkle a little more flour, while mixing, to achieve this texture.
3. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, rolling it around to coat. Then press the dough into a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours, or overnight (the dough is easier to work with if it’s cold).
4. Transfer the chilled dough to a well-floured board or counter. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.
5. With a floured rolling pin, roll each piece into a rectangle about 8-10 inches long.
6. Spread a layer of the cinnamon filling pastry cream and then sprinkle liberally with the cinnamon sugar.
7. Cut the two rectangles lengthwise so there are 4 pieces. Roll each piece onto itself so it is a long, skinny rope. Braid the two strips together end over end. Do the same with the other two pieces.
8. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, place the braided ropes together attaching the ends and forming a circle.
9. Place the baking sheet in a warm spot (about 80 degrees) to rise. This may take 2-3 hours. The King’s Cake should double in size.
10. Preheat your oven to 350ยบ F and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cake is light golden in color. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
11. Once cake is completely cool, transfer to a festive platter and spread icing on top, immediately follow with the trio of sprinkles. Tuck the plastic baby, bean or nut under the cake. Slice and enjoy!

Cinnamon Filling Pastry Cream
Make the filling a day in advance because it needs to be cold
1. Combine ¾ Cup milk and half of the sugar in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
2. Meanwhile in a medium-sized bowl, combine the cornstarch with the remaining sugar. Whisk in the remaining ¼ milk. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract and whisk until the mixture is smooth.
3. Temper the egg mixture by adding a ladle-full of the hot milk, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling.
4. Once tempered, pour the egg mixture into the saucepan of hot milk. While whisking vigorously, keep heat at medium-high until the pastry cream comes to a boil.
5. Pour the pastry cream into a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the pastry cream to prevent a film from forming. Cover and put in the refrigerator to chill completely.
6. Once the pastry cream is cool, stir in the remaining cinnamon & sugar and reserve until assembling the dough (see directions for assembly in For the Dough). Keep refrigerated until use.

Cinnamon Sugar
1. Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Can be made a day in advance and kept at room temperature.

1. In the bowl of stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, mix all ingredients until incorporated and smooth.


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  2. I was happy to try this and it was delicious, especially as evidenced by the fact that four people made it disappear in 20 minutes. Nice work!

    1. Thank you Mark! I'm so glad you all enjoyed it!!

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Aubrey, I hope you get a chance to make it sometime!

  4. I once hosted a Mardi-Gras party and made a King's Cake. Your version looks so yummy! Did you know that, traditionally, whoever gets the plastic baby/bean has to host the next Mardi-Gras party? Let the good (and tasty) times roll!! Mystery Chick

  5. I once hosted a Mardi-Gras party and made a King's Cake. Your version looks so yummy! Did you know that, traditionally, whoever gets the plastic baby/bean has to host the next Mardi-Gras party? Let the good (and tasty) times roll!! Mystery Chick

    1. Yes Mystery Chick, it seems like a fun tradition. I bet hosting a Mardi Gras party is a lot of fun... hmmmm, now you've got me thinking and that's always dangerous. HA!! ;)