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Happy Mardi Gras!
Here in New Orleans the parades and festivities are in full swing, school is canceled, everyone is walking around with neck pain from too many beads and putting on a few extra pounds from the King Cake!
So even though they sell it everywhere, I still had to make my own. And it is amazing! Moist, delicious, sweet, rich, don’t think about the calories and just enjoy!
A word of warning though, this is not a good place to start if you have never made a yeast bread. It is a doable bread but not the easiest, most consistent, or happiest of the bread baking experiences. It’s not even really a bread but some strange hybrid pastry cake brioche masterpiece. So if you have never made a yeast bread before I recommend getting a few under your belt but then definitely coming back and making this. It is worth it!
Traditional recipe taken from Mardigrasday.com
1.2 c warm water
2 pkg active dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 2 tsp sugar
3 1/2 - 4 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp allspice
2 tsp salt
Zest of one lemon
1/2 cup warm milk
5 egg yokes (yep 5!)
1 stick butter softened
2 tbsp butter melted
best quality you can find cinnamon
1 egg slightly beaten
1 tbsp milk
3 cups confectioner sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice (though I always just use what I get from the above mentioned zested lemon)
3-6 tbsp water
Pour the warm water into a bowl and sprinkle with the yeast, and 2 tsp of sugar. Let that sit for three minutes before mixing. After the yeast is all dissolved put the bowl in a warm place for about 10 minutes until it has foamed up and doubled in bulk. I do not recommend using a Kitchen Aid for this recipe. I love my Kitchen Aid but this dough is delicate and I find it easier not even to start it in the machine but work it all by hand.
In a second bowl combine 3 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, allspice, salt, and lemon zest. Dig out a hole in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the yeast and milk. Add the egg yolks and slowly combine into a rough dough.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and begin slowly to knead in the stick of softened butter (and it really needs to be softened for this to work). The recipe says you should be able to do this with a wooden spoon beating the dough… I have not found that to work best. Instead I just spread about a tablespoon of the butter on the dough, give it a few good turns kneading and then repeat. It takes a lot of work and a lot of kneading but eventually (after a good 8 - 10 minutes) you will get a smooth, shiny, soft dough. (And it will smell heavenly!)
Using yet more softened butter, throughly grease a bowl. Rotating to make sure the entire surface is covered in butter, place the dough into the bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Punch down the dough (my favorite part) and be forceful! Then place the dough back on a lightly floured surface and pat out into a rectangle. You want it to be about an inch thick at this point. Brush the dough with the melted butter and sprinkle liberally with sugar and cinnamon.
At this point, if you like and if you have one, you can place a small plastic baby figurine, or a pecan, or a dried bean, into the dough. This is a really old custom and has many different interpretations depending on which region of the world you are in. Here in New Orleans the most common is who ever finds the baby must get the next king cake! If you are worried about your baby melting you can also add it after the cake is baked and before you ice it to hide its location.
Roll the dough up like you would for a cinnamon roll and seal the edges.
Twisting the roll form into a wreath shape, pinching the ends together to complete the circle. Cover and again let raise until doubled, about 45 minutes this time.
Pre-heat the oven to 375 and prepare the egg wash simply by beating the egg with the tablespoon of milk.
Brush the top and sides of the cake with the egg wash and bake for 25-35 minutes - mine went for 30 but I should have probably taken it out at 25 as the bottom, while not burned, was well done.
Place the cake on a wire rack to cool while you make the icing.
Traditionally for Mardi Gras the king cake will be covered with a white icing and then green, gold, and purple sugars. If you can find the sugar in the store that is far and away the simplest but I, alas, can never seem to get the colored sugar and so always hand-dye with food coloring and regular sugar.
For the icing combine the confectioners sugar, lemon juice and 3 tbsp of water until smooth, adding more water if needed. You want it to be a spreadable consistency. This year my icing was actually a little thin but someone (ok it was me) forgot to check on the amount of confectioners sugar we had when she (I) went shopping for king cake ingredients. (Oops!)
Spread the icing over the top of the cake and immediately sprinkle the colored sugars in individual rows. Tradition is two rows of each color but feel free to do more or less.
And don’t feel tied to the Mardi Gras colors. There are often Saints King Cakes here for Tailgating parties. I make one for my brother every year for his birthday in whatever colors I feel like, haha go wild! I have even seen red and green Christmas King Cakes!!
P.S. Look for me and this cake on the amazing Yeast Spotting Blog!!