One of my closest friends is from New Orleans, and last year we made King Cake together to celebrate Mardi Gras. She has since moved to Seattle, but I miss her and thought that I’d make King Cake again this year, in honor of her and of New Orleans. King Cake is basically a type of brioche, usually iced and decorated with sugar in the colors of Mardi Gras (green, purple, and gold). My friend, being a King Cake purist, refused to entertain the idea of stuffing the cake with what are apparently now-common fillings like cream cheese, and I have to say that I think she’s right – the cake is sweet, rich, and delicious enough without the addition of heavy fillings. She proclaimed our version New Orleans-y and I believed her – given the fact that I’d never had a King Cake before!
Since the 1930s, a New Orleans tradition has been to insert a baby doll trinket into the cake as a representation of the baby Jesus or, as some report, simply because one New Orleans bakery accidentally received an impossibly large shipment of tiny plastic baby dolls. Other traditional items put into the cake for good luck include pecans and beans. If you want to insert a bean, pecan, or especially a plastic baby doll, do it after the cake has baked and cooled.
This recipe is adapted from one on Fabulous Foods.
Happy Mardi Gras!
For the cake:
2 tablespoons instant yeast
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 teaspoons (divided)
1/2 cup warm water (110ºF)
4 cups all purpose flour (plus potentially more for the dough)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk, warmed slightly
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons cinnamon
For the egg wash:
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
For the icing and topping:
3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3-4 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Purple, gold, and green colored sugar
Special Equipment: A stand mixer
For the cake:
- Combine yeast, 2 teaspoons sugar, and warm water in a small bowl. Set bowl in a warm place until the mixture starts to bubble up and doubles in volume, about 10 minutes. (Discard mixture and start over if yeast doesn’t bubble. Sorry!)
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, lemon zest, nutmeg, and kosher salt together. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast mixture, egg yolks, remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, and warm milk. Using the dough hook, gradually add the flour mixture, then the softened butter until combined. Knead dough, adding flour a tablespoon at a time (if necessary) until the dough is smooth, shiny, elastic, and pulls away from the sides of the mixer bowl – about 10 minutes.
- Spray a large bowl with cooking spray and transfer dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
- Butter a large baking sheet, or line the baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper.
- Punch down dough. Give it a good punch or two; it feels kind of good. Sprinkle the dough with the cinnamon and form into a cylinder, transfer the cylinder to the baking sheet, then twist the cylinder into a circle. Pinch the ends of the circle together to seal completely.
- Loosely cover the dough with oiled plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft free place to rise again; about 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Combine the 1 tablespoon milk and the beaten egg for the egg wash.
- Brush sides and top of the cake with egg wash. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown on top. If it begins to over brown, cover with tinfoil.
- Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.
For the icing and topping:
- Combine the sifted confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and water until the mixture is smooth. Add more water or lemon juice if the mixture is too thick.
- Spread icing on the cake and immediately sprinkle the colored sugar on the cake in alternating rows.