King Cake is a glazed and sugared yeast bread ring that is a New Orleans tradition for Mardi Gras. Serve this cake to revelers throughout the Carnival season and on Fat Tuesday.
This was my first foray into King Cake territory. It’s been on my baking bucket list for as long as I’ve been blogging – more than 10 years now! I’m not sure how it slipped through the cracks, but I believe it has something to do with how quickly January and February seem to slip away before I know it. I decided to make it a priority this year. I love a confection with a story, and this bread comes with a rich history of tradition.
Louisiana-style king cake is usually decorated in the colors associated with Mardi Gras: green, gold, and purple which represents faith, power, and justice. It’s served from Epiphany in January throughout the Carnival season which ends on Fat Tuesday in late February. A small plastic baby (representing the Christ child) is hidden inside, and the guest who finds the trinket in their piece of cake gets to be king for the day – and also has to host next year’s celebration!
There are many versions of King Cake across the globe, but even when you hone in on just the ones made near the Gulf Coast, you’ll still find quite a variety. They range from twisted braids filled with cinnamon, to praline-studded and Kringle-shaped. I chose the latter because I have some experience forming this shape (seemy favorite Kringle here).
Instant yeast is key here. There’s no blooming or fiddling around with exact liquid temperatures. It is simply a matter of mixing all the dough ingredients together in a big bowl. I recommend using a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook for easiest kneading. The finished dough should be soft and stretchy.
This version is filled with cream cheese before baking, which makes the end result one big cheese danish. I used bergamot extract in the dough, filling and the glaze, but a common flavoring is Fiori di Sicilia (which always reminds me of Christmas muffins, see here). If you don’t have either of those flavors on hand, any citrus extract (lemon, orange) will work just fine.
One thing remains consistent across all the versions of Louisiana-style King Cake – the sanding sugars! You can find all the colors you need, along with a little plastic baby right here!
*If participating in the tradition of hiding a plastic baby in the cake, discreetly cut a small opening in the bottom of the cooled cake and insert it. Be sure to inform party-goers of this so they’ll be on the lookout, and so there are no unfortunate surprises (such as damaged dental work).
I’m so happy to finally have this one under my belt, and now I’m ready to experiment with a cinnamon-filled braided version. The recipe is enjoyable to make, and the yeasty-cheesy-citrusy end result is absolutely delectable with strong coffee on a rainy afternoon.
Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!
Mardi Gras King Cake
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter melted
- 3/4 cup lukewarm milk
- 2 eggs + 1 yolk reserve white for later use, at room temperature
- 3 1/2 cups 420g unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup 50g granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup 35g nonfat dry milk powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon bergamot extract or Fiori di Sicilia
- 8 oz. cream cheese softened
- 1/2 cup 100g granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons 25g all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 2 teaspoons bergamot extract
- 2 cups 225g confectioners’ sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon bergamot extract
- 2-3 tablespoons milk or cream
- Purple green, and gold sanding sugars
- Make the dough: Place all of the dough ingredients, in the order given, in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. Knead the ingredients together until a soft, smooth dough forms. Coat a large bowl with cooking spray and place the dough in the bowl. Turn once to coat. Spray a piece of plastic wrap with cooking spray and cover the bowl. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for about 1 hour. The dough will puff slightly but will not double in size.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Gently stretch the dough into a 24×6-inch rectangle. You won’t have to do much rolling here, just pat the shape out with floured hands. Allow to rest while you prepare the filling.
- Make the filling: Place the cream cheese, sugar and flour in the bowl of an electric mixer. Cream together until smooth. Add the egg and extract. Mix again until combined.
- Dot filling down the center of the dough. Fold one edge of the dough over the filling. Beat remaining egg white with 1 tablespoon water, and coat the edge with egg wash. Coat the unfolded edge of the dough with egg wash. Fold it over onto the dough so that they overlap. (See blog pictures for visual cues).
- Place the long baton of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, stretching it slightly and forming it into an oval. Pinch the ends together; use egg wash to adhere. Brush the entire loaf with the egg wash.
- Cover and let the loaf rise for about one hour. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350F.
- Bake the cake for 20 minutes, then tent with aluminum foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until fragrant and golden. Allow the cake to cool before frosting.
- Make the glaze: Beat together the confectioners’ sugar, salt, extract, and milk in a large bowl. The mixture should be thick and pourable. Spoon the icing over the cooled cake and immediately cover with alternating sanding sugar colors.