Last year happened to be the first time in my life that I had a King Cake.  Being from the North we don’t traditionally have them, and having never been to New Orleans it was something I was not familiar with in the least.

In 2008 one of my coworkers went to New Orleans in January with a group of alumni and students for a service learning trip where they worked with Habitat for Humanity to reuild homes.  It’s something that the college I work at has committed itself to doing twice a year for the next 5 or so years (it might be 10, but I really can’t remember).

So upon her return she brought back a legitimate New Orleans King Cake.  It was filled with a lovely sweet cream cheese filling, and adorned with brighly colored sprinkles, in gold, green, and purple.  I managed to get the plastic baby she hid inside, which meant that I was the one to bring the King Cake the following year.

I marked my outlook calendar for 2009 and proceeded to completely forget about the King Cake.  January rolled around, I saw that I was supposed to bring the cake in, and decided to start looking to see where I could purchase one.  Whole Foods supposedly had them around Mardi Gras time (which I also had to look up, as it shifts all the time).  I decided that instead of trying to buy one locally, or ship one in from New Orleans, that I would try and make one myself.

I have become more and more comfortable with yeast breads, and I found a good looking recipe that seemed easy enough.  I set out to make it the night before official Mardi Gras, and guess what?  My dough didn’t rise.  I was so devastated that I decided to make a second one on Mardi Gras, and bring it in the next day anyway.  And the second one worked.  It might have been the fact that I switched out active dry for rapid rise yeast, or that my husband had the space heater pumping in the kitchen when I got home, but whatever it was, it worked.  And my goodness, it was a GIANT cake.  I probably could have cut the recipe in half.

But my coworkers loved it, and we ate it all.  As a side note I am trying out a bit of a new format, as I realized that if anyone ever wanted to god forbid MAKE one of my recipes, they’d have to copy and paste all the text section by section, because of my photos.  So I might go back and change my other posts, we’ll see how this goes.

King Cake

This is an Emeril recipe that I found on gumbo pages.  The recipe makes a giant king cake, and as you can see, I didn’t use nearly enough sprinkles on mine.

  • 2 envelopes active dry yeast I used rapid rise instead
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup warm milk (about 110°F)
  • 5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 4 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 plastic king cake baby or a pecan half
  • 5 tablespoons milk, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Purple-, green-, and gold-tinted sugar sprinkles

Combine the yeast and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the melted butter and warm milk. Beat at low speed for 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the egg yolks, then beat for 1 minute at medium-low speed. Add the flour, salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest and beat until everything is incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, forms a ball, and starts to climb up the dough hook. (If the dough is uncooperative in coming together, add a bit of warm water (110 degrees), a tablespoon at a time, until it does.)

Remove the dough from the bowl. Using your hands, form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl with the vegetable oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of the confectioner’s sugar. Blend by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed. Set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your fingers, pat it out into a rectangle about 30 inches long and 6 inches wide.

Spread the filling lengthwise over the bottom half of the dough, then flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together. Shape the dough into a cylinder and place it on the prepared baking sheet seam side down. Shape the dough into a ring and pinch the ends together so there isn’t a seam. Insert the king cake baby or pecan half into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough (I put the baby in the bottom of the cake after it had been baked, I wasn’t going to take any chances).

Cover the ring with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Brush the top of the risen cake with 2 tablespoons of the milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the icing. Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons milk, the lemon juice, and the remaining 3 cups confectioner’s sugar in medium-size mixing bowl. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with the sugar crystals, alternating colors around the cake.

The cake is traditionally cut into 2-inch-thick slices with all the guests in attendance.

YIELD: 20 to 22 servings

As a parting gift I leave you with this photo of my husband, circa 2003.  His birthday happened to fall on Mardi Gras that year, and so my roommates and I bought him a corncob pipe (I don’t remember why, he doesn’t smoke) and made him wear Mardi Gras beads to class.  We also baked him a lovely cake frosted in bright green and black.  Since his birthday is tomorrow, I felt the need to share this photo (and don’t worry, I will be posting my birthday cake recipe sometime in the near future).

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