A confession: I’ve never been to Mardi Gras. I realize it counts as one of those things you should do in your life but I’m kind of afraid that that ship has sailed. Although I’ve never been a wild partier, there was a time when a citywide party with a crowd of strangers and copious alcohol may have seemed like it might be fun. Now, in my advancing middle age (I’ll be Thirty TWO on my next birthday) I am now firmly in the stage of my life where a good time means a comfortable seat, a scintillating conversation, and one or three cocktails prepared with extreme care. And I have a secret suspicion that those three items might be hard to find in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
There are certain things I AM sorry to miss out on, though, and one of those is the famous King Cake. I’ve had the French Galette des Rois for Twelfth Night (you may have noticed if you’re a regular reader that my upbringing tends towards the francophone), but that frangipane and pastry confection is, from what I understand, NOT the same thing. I have friends in the South who talk about King Cakes from January 6 through Mardi Gras, and my interest was piqued. I’ve spent the past few years checking out all the places in Los Angeles that I thought might reasonably sell King Cake, all to no avail. So, since Tuesday is Mardi Gras (french for Fat Tuesday, fittingly) I did what any moderately insane curious person with a kitchen would do — decided to make my own.
Aiming for an authentic experience, I found a King Cake recipe on the New Orleans Times Picayune website, Nola.com, and then adapted it slightly. Plain cinnamon sugar is the traditional filling, but both cream cheese and praline seem to be mentioned often enough as people’s favorites that I thought I’d go a little wild with the filling. And of course, it’s not a New Orleans Mardi Gras King Cake unless it’s decorated with the traditional colors of Mardi Gras — purple, green and gold — so I got out my gel food coloring and my icing (though food coloring never tastes good, and if you’re not being a purist I would suggest going with all white icing).
The yeast is intimidating but not difficult — remember that a moister, stickier dough will yield a lighter and more tender bread, and yeast cookery involves a few extra steps but no real extra degrees of diffuculty. And it’s worth it. The result is a buttery, rich coffee cake that is not too sweet, despite all that icing. Will it transport you to New Orleans during Mardi Gras? That I can’t tell you. But it’s certainly a cake for a king. Or a party.
- 1 envelope dry yeast
- ¼ c. warm water (about 100 degrees)
- ½ c. milk
- 1 c. salted butter
- ½ c. sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 whole eggs
- 4 c. flour
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 8 oz cream cheese
- 1 egg
- 2 T. white sugar
- 2 T. flour
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- ½ c. chopped, toasted pecans
- ¼ c. brown sugar
- 1 egg (for egg wash)
- Powdered Sugar
- Almond Extract
- Food Coloring
- Mix the yeast with the warm water. Add 1 tsp. sugar and 1 tsp. flour and stir. Set aside to proof.
- Heat the milk with the butter and sugar in a saucepan. When the butter has melted, transfer to the bowl of a standing mixer. Start mixing with the flat blade on low to cool the mixture to lukewarm. Add eggs, egg yolks and yeast mixture (which should be bubbling nicely by this point. If there are no bubbles, your yeast may be less active than it needs to be) and mix until combined.
- Add 2 cups flour, cinnamon and baking powder and continue to mix, then switch to the dough hook attachment, and add two more cups of flour. Let the dough hook knead the mixture until all the flour is incorporated and the mixture looks smooth and elastic. It should be incredibly sticky but still form a mass (ie., the dough can be mostly formed into a sticky ball -- it's not a batter). Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about two hours.
- When the dough has risen, pat it down (let some of the air out, but don't be so unkind as to punch it, then cover with a damp towel and leave in the refrigerator for 7-8 hours, or overnight.
- Combine cream cheese, egg, white sugar, flour, cinnamon and vanilla and beat until thoroughly combined.
- While the dough is still cold, divide it in half, and set 1 half aside. With the other half, roll it into a long sausage shape, then on a floured board with a floured rolling pin roll the sausage into a long rectangle about 30 inches long by 9 inches tall. The dough should be fairly thin, like pie crust.
- Spread the cream cheese filling down the center of the dough, then sprinkle the chopped, toasted pecans and the brown sugar along the filling. Fold the dough down over the filling so that the edge slightly overlaps in the middle, and arrange, seam side down, on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper into the shape of a ring. Seal the edge of the ring, brush with egg wash, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- When the cake has rested, make some slits in the top with a sharp knife, then brush again with egg wash. Bake at 375 for 35 minutes, and let cool before icing.
- For the icing, mix powdered sugar with a pinch of salt, a few drops of almond extract and water until it's the consistency of a thick and spreadable paste. If desired, color with food coloring, and spread on top of the cake.
- Serve with coffee.
Great post! I hate to break the news to ya but 32 ain’t no where near middle age. You are still a young’un!
I have eatten many of these,over the years,and looking at the cut end,”Lady,you done a very nice cake”!! I have been thinking about these,and bought one of these,to look at how it was put together,and it was the worst,I have ever seen,so much cinnamon,and maybe wheat flour,the bread was almost black and taste bad also!! It was a from,a large chain store?? I may try your recipe,and see how it goes.Most here,will sprinkle colored sugar,over the glaze also,to make it colorful.Very nice though!! I have many recipes,and sorta scared of getting my feet wet,or turn out!!
I love the line, “what any moderately insane curious person with a kitchen would do”. It’s why I love following your blog. =) Kudos on tackling the King Cake. The only ones I’ve ever tasted have been store bought and really nasty. This looks like it is well worth making at home!
i’ve never properly celebrated mardi gras either. not sure why because i see it on the calendar every year but i never get the jolt to actually get a crew together and celebrate the “right” way. i am the same as you, i would rather have a good meal with good friends and lots of laughter!
This looks lovely (except for the colors – sorry; I know they are authentic.)
If you are not familiar with Julia Reed – and even if you are – you might want to read two of her books: (1) Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns and
Other Southern Specialties and (2) The House on First Street – My New Orleans Story.
I think you will be charmed.
I’ve actually never heard of this cake. The filling sounds amazing. I’ll definitely have to try this out!
OK, now I know what a King Cake is. Been seeing everyone tweeting about it and I had no clue what it was. Looks great…with a steamy cup of coffee.
So glad to see your blog back on line 🙂
Thank you for the recipe. I will be trying it. I think you can make it look more appetizing by using white icing and colored sugars instead of tinting the icing itself 🙂
As a native of Louisiana (and as someone born in New Orleans itself), I have to say that the outside imagine of Mardi Gras being one big wild, drinking, boob-flashing fest is … well, not FALSE, but it’s not really the locals that partake in that. For the locals, Mardi Gras consists of the day/evening parades (my favourite ones are personally in Metairie) and we centre them around having good food, drinks & catching some beads. In cases like this, it pays to know someone who owns a house on the parade route! That way, you can catch beads from the front porch while enjoying some jambalaya and a beer, with a side of king cake when you’re done!
Also, New Orleans is not the only place to enjoy some Mardi Gras fun. Cities like Lafayette and Baton Rouge also have notable Mardi Gras parades and are worth mentioning.
And as for me and my king cake, my favourite filling is probably praline with Bavarian cream. Mmmmmm!
Did someone just say praline with Bavarian cream? Shut. Up. Yum.
My local bakery makes Kings Cake, but I did find it rawther boring. Did you hide the baby in yours? That part was fun. And seconding the colored sprinkles. Sparkly! Mardi Gras is all about the sparkle.
Wow. That sounds super good. I’ve never had one!! Can you believe it?
While Kasey S may not agree with me (it is some what a debate where Mardi Gras started) Mobile, AL (the original) does a wonderful celebration minus all the drunken breast flashing.