The first time I had a king cake I did not enjoy it. Not because I didn’t like the taste of sweet bricoche-y bread topped with icing and colored sugar, but because I happened to get the slice with the baby in it. For those of you who don’t know the tradition, a small plastic trinket (often of a baby) or a coin is hidden in the baked cake and the person who finds it in their slice gets good luck, or to be king, or to bring the cake the following year, or something. Well, for some reason at the time I had that first slice of king cake with the baby inside of it, I did not want to tell anyone I had found it. I’m not exactly sure why, but it seemed embarrassing. So, I hid the baby and didn’t say anything. By the time we had finished the cake and everyone was complaining about the bakery forgetting to include a baby it seemed too weird to fess up. So my first experience with this cake was awkward. Thankfully, I have recovered from my king cake issues and am now able to enjoy a slice, baby or not.
This recipe for king cake is from DamGoodSweet, a cookbook which chronicles the best of New Orleans desserts as made by David Guas. It is a fantastic book, both in terms of recipe quality and writing, and I am looking forward to trying many of the recipes. With Mardi Gras a few days away and the Saints crowned as our new Superbowl champions, it seems like a perfect time to make a king cake and start celebrating. For the record, I didn’t include a baby in my cake. Maybe I am not fully recovered.
This recipe looks insanely long, I know. But it isn’t long, it is just thorough. The cake comes together pretty easily. You’ll notice from the photos that I didn’t have the food colorings I needed to make this in the traditional green, gold, purple color scheme but I still liked how it turned out. It keeps well at room temperature for a couple of days, but really is best on the day it is made.
***For more on king cakes, check this out. It also covers some of the European versions of the cakes which are associated with Epiphany rather than Mardi Gras…
King Cake (from DamGoodSweet by David Guas & Raquel Pelez)
- 1 (1 1/4-0z) package dry active yeast
- 1/4 cup warm milk (105°-115°F)
- 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons bread flour, plus extra for rolling
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3/4 cup cake flour
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- small plastic toy or coin or bean (optional)
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon milk
Icing and Decoration
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups of sugar
- green, yellow, and purple food coloring
Whisk the yeast with the warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer until dissolved. Add the 6 tablespoons of bread flour and the honey and, using the paddle attachment , mix on low speed until fairly smooth (there will still be a few lumps), 30 seconds to 1 minute, scraping the bottom and sides of bowl as necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.
Once the dough has doubled, add 3/4 cup of the remaining bread flour, the cake flour, eggs, egg yolk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and almond extracts, and salt. Mix on low speed until combined, then switch to a dough hook, increase the speed to medium, and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and begin adding 4 tablespoons of the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing well between additions. Continue to knead until the dough forms a slack ball (it will ride the dough hook, be tacky, and not slap the bottom of the bowl, but it should generally come together into a loose mass), 2 to 3 minutes. If the dough doesn’t come together, continue kneading while adding up to 1/4 cup of the reserved bread flour, until it does.
Grease a large bowl with 1/2 tablespoon of the remaining butter and transfer the dough to the bowl, turning it over in the bowl to coat with butter. Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and place the bowl in a draft free spot until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and grease the parchment paper with the remaining butter. Generously flour your work surface with remaining 1/4 cup of bread flour (if you used the bread flour on the dough, dust your work surface with more bread flour). Turn the dough out onto the work surface and sprinkle the top with some flour. Use your hands to press and flatten it into a rectangle. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 1/4-inch-thick strip that is about 24 inches long and 6 inches wide. Starting with one of the long sides, roll the dough on top of itself, making a long, thin baguette shaped length. Pinch the edges to the body of the dough to seal, turn the dough so it lies horizontally on your work surface, and gently roll it on your work surface to even out any buldges and create a somewhat consistent 1 1/2-inch-wide rope. Bring the two ends of the dough together and pinch them into one another to seal. Carefully transfer the dough circle to the prepared pan. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towl and set in a warm, dry spot to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Heat oven to 375F. To make the egg wash, whisk the egg and the milk together in a small bowl. Brush the egg wash over the top and sides of the dough, and bake the king cake until golden brown and cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes. Immediately after removing cake from oven, make a small slit in the bottom of the cake and insert the baby figurine (if using). Set on a rack to cool completely.
While the cake cools, make the icing. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, milk and vanilla together in a medium bowl until smooth and completely incorporated. Cover the bowl with a damp towel until you are ready to decorate the cake.
To make the colored sugar, measure 1 cup of the sugar into each of 3 resealable quart-size plastic bags. Add 4 drops of green food coloring to one bag. 4 drops of yellow food coloring to another bag and 4 drops of purple food coloring to the last bag. Seal each bag and then vigorously shake to combine the sugar and food coloring.
Spoon the icing over the cooled cake. Immediately after icing, decorate with the tinted sugar.