If there’s ever a time of year that desperately needs a party, it’s now. And this recipe is a party in and of itself: Mardi Gras King Cake.
I’ve never been to Mardi Gras but I’m always up for party, especially one with yummy food, so when a friend asked me to make a Mardi Gras King Cake, I happily accepted.
I hadn’t seen a King Cake in years so the nerd in me immediately had to learn everything about it. Apparently it came to New Orleans via France (no big surprise there) in the late 19th century and celebrates the biblical three wisemen/kings. It’s decorated in the colors of Mardi Gras: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.
Often a small plastic baby, originally meant to represent Jesus, is put into the cake after baking. Whoever gets the slice with the baby is blessed with luck and prosperity for the coming year. For mine I put in a small plastic dinosaur because: (a) I’m kind of a heathen, and (b) with a three year old. there are many of them in my house. It felt right. Don’t ask questions, just go with me on this.
There are many ways to make a King Cake, but since it was my first I stuck, close to traditional: sweet brioche dough wrapped around pecan praline. The result? Pretty freakin’ tasty even when made “close enough” style (note that I ran out of gold sprinkles and had switch to yellow. Didn’t stop me from eating a huge slice.).
Like the Billionaire’s Shortbread I made recently, this recipe has multiple steps and can be a bit time consuming. But no single step is difficult, so don’t be intimidated. And most of the time is waiting for dough to proof which requires simply to leave the dough alone. Easy enough.
The first step is to scald milk and then add butter. Scalding milk involves heating milk to just below boiling and then allowing it to cool.
Once the milk mixture cools, it’s added to some yeast mixed with sugar, water, eggs and a few other ingredients.
After that, stir in some flour and you’ve got your dough. Voila!
As you can see, brioche dough is pretty sticky. When I knead brioche, I usually coat my hands in a little cooking spray or flour. So don’t freak out if it starts sticking to your hands or your work surface. Get a little more flour and carry on. All part of the process. Embrace it. Kneading dough can be relaxing if you just go with it.
Once your dough is kneaded, let it proof, a fancy word for rise, in a warm place – anywhere will do. While it’s proofing, make the filling. Super easy. Takes like 10 minutes. Just try not to eat it all. It’s hard.
Now comes the fun part: after the dough proofs, punch it down (so satisfying) and divide it into two pieces. With each, you’re going to do the same thing so you end up with two King Cakes.
Roll the dough into a large rectangle. Make sure to flour your rolling pin well to prevent sticking.
Then spread the filling evenly over the dough. Don’t be shy, use your hands if you need to.
Now take a deep breath and roll the whole thing up like a jelly roll or a sleeping bag (whatever simile works for you). Be gentle and take your time. No rush. But if the dough rips a little or the roll is not perfectly even no worries! It’s cake not rocket science. It’s still going to taste great no matter how you roll it. Besides, icing covers many flaws. It’s like the make-up of the cake world.
Next you join the ends of the roll together to make an oval. You’re going to use scissors to snip a few slits in it. That’s so it doesn’t explode in the oven and ’cause it’s pretty. The cake’s now ready to bake!
When it comes it out of the oven it will look something like this. Maybe better, if you’re more OCD than I am about the ends meeting up perfectly. I just don’t care that much.
Once the cake is only warm to the touch, spoon icing over top. The warmth of the cake will make the icing drip down the cake sides. Some sprinkles on top and it’s all over but the shouting.
So sit down, cut yourself a generous slice and savor your good work. You earned it.
Final note: The beads in the above shot were from my kids’ dress-up stuff. At last those plastic pieces of crap came in handy for something other than another worthless item for my kids could fight over. Score.
Can’t make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras? This cake brings it to you. A tender brioche dough with swirls of pecan praline and just the right amount of sweet icing makes this King Cake a ray of sunshine in the doldrums of early March. Eat a piece with a cup of strong coffee, close you eyes and pretend Bourbon Street is just outside your door.
Scald milk,* then turn off heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water with 1 tablespoon sugar. Let mixture stand for 10 minutes until yeast begins to bubble.
After letting yeast mixture rest, add the cooled milk mixture.
Whisk in the eggs, then stir in remaining 1/2 cup sugar, salt and nutmeg.
Add flour 1/3 at a time to the batter, mixing to incorporate each time.
Turn dough out on to lightly floured parchment paper and kneed until smooth (about 8-10 minutes).
Place dough in lightly oiled bowl, turning dough once to coat in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until it has doubled in volume (approx. 2 hours).
While dough is proofing, make the filling by combining ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until crumbly.
Once dough has risen, punch down and divide into two pieces.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper lightly sprayed with cooking or baking spray.
Place dough half on prepared baking sheet and roll out into a large rectangle (approx. 10 x 16 inches).
Sprinkle dough evenly with filling. Then, with the longest side in front of you, roll up dough like a jelly roll.
Bring the ends of the roll together to form an oval shaped ring.
Using scissors, snip 1/3 of the way through dough at 1 inch intervals.
Repeat process with the second half of dough. Then allow both cakes to rest in a warm spot until doubled in size (approx. 45 minutes).
Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. If cake is browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil.
Allow cakes to cool until just warm to the touch. Place baby doll (or dinosaur) in bottom of the cake then spoon icing over top of both cakes. Decorate with sprinkles as desired.
*To scald milk, heat it on the stovetop to just before it begins to boil and then allow it to cool down. It helps to make the cake more tender and airy. Remove milk from heat when you begin to see steam or small bubbles around the edge of the pot.