My husband and I met in New Orleans at Culinary School. He likes to say we met over a hot stove. It was August in New Orleans so I’m sure it was hot. My husband grew up in Louisiana, in a small town about 30 miles west of New Orleans named LaPlace. I’m sure you’ve heard of it because it’s the Andouille Capital of the World. I’m not making this up. Anyway, we met, became friends, began dating , fell in love and became engaged in New Orleans. We still had 1 year of culinary school left to finish after we were married so we rented the top half of a house on Napoleon Avenue for our first year of married bliss. Our first Mardi Gras as newlyweds was indeed memorable. Our apartment had a front row seat to the beginning of many Mardi Gras parades. The floats would line the boulevard waiting for their time to roll onto St. Charles Avenue. Party revelers warming up their tossing arms used our balcony as target practice. It was a blast. That Mardi Gras like this year’s fell very close to Valentine’s day. It was a romantic and fun event. We owned a tandem bicycle at the time and we rode the bike through the streets on Mardi Gras day because it was much easier to navigate through the parade traffic than trying to drive. There are so many sweet memories of those fun times.
Not being from New Orleans, the whole king cake tradition was new to me, but I quickly learned. Originating in France as a Gateau de la Roi , or Cake of the King, it was the treat of the season of Epiphany from January 6 to Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Traditionally the cake was puff pastry dough with an almond filling and a charm or trinket or bean baked inside; whomever was served the slice of cake with the prize became “King for a Day.” In the New Orleans adaptation of the traditional cake it has become a yeasty pastry similar to a coffee cake, often doughnut dough, and a plastic baby is baked inside. According to the authority John Malik, the baby was chosen because it signifies the journey during Epiphany of the Wise Men looking for the baby Jesus.
So, every year I make king cakes. I’ve already made a couple of batches this year. They’re fun to give to friends. That’s why I like this recipe because it makes 2 hefty cakes. I’ll make some more this weekend to ship to my Sister in Law in New Mexico for her Mardi Gras party and serve one to our family. Some people get fancy and put cream cheese, almond or even butter pecan filling in their cakes and that’s easy enough to do. I like the simplicity of the cinnamon flavor in the cake with the yeasty dough and sugar.
Brew up a fresh pot of coffee and chicory and sit down and have some cake. Hopefully you get the baby and will be crowned “King for the Day!” Enjoy!
( Adapted from a recipe out of the Times-Picayune in the 90’s)
4 3/4 C. bread or all-purpose flour
¼ C. sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons yeast
1 teaspoon honey
¾ C. milk
½ C. water + ¼ C. warm water (95°- 105°)
½ C. + 4 Tablespoons butter, softened
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
2 Cups brown sugar
2 egg whites
1 whole egg, beaten for egg wash
2 Cups Confectioner’s sugar
2- 3 Tablespoons of half and half or cream
1 teaspoon Vanilla
Green, Yellow and Purple decorating sugar
Yield: 2 – 14” cakes-
*Prep time: 30 minutes, then 1/12 – 2 hours rise time, dough should rest in refrigeration overnight but you can continue on if you want to make it all in one day.
Rolling, Shaping and Baking: 45 minutes, then proofing approximately another 1 hour before baking for approximately 30 minutes.
*Before you get started there are a few special supplies which are optional as far as taste goes, but essential to the King Cake mystique. If you do not live in the New Orleans area where Mardi Gras stores are prevalent, the green, gold or yellow, and purple sugar sprinkles can be purchased at any store that sells cake decorating supplies from national hobby and craft stores to your local 5 & Dime. In this same section of the store look for tiny plastic babies – used by the rest of the world as decorations for baby showers, but in New Orleans bakeries inserted into the raw dough of the King Cake.
- Heat ½ C. water, milk, ½ C. butter and salt in a small saucepan until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and cool to 105°.
- Dissolve the yeast and honey in ¼ C. of warm water. Let proof until it bubbles and is very foamy.
Combine 2 C. of flour and the sugar in the bowl of a mixer with a dough hook.
When yeast is foamy, pour into flour in mixer and start on low. Add the water and butter mixture. Mix on medium speed for 30 seconds.
- Add the eggs one at a time and incorporate fully. Add remainingflour ½ C. at a time. Dough should be very soft. Add flour until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Add in the softened 2 Tablespoons of butter. Continue to allow kneading until dough makes a slapping sound on the side of the bowl and the dough ball comes clean from the edges of the bowl.
- Butter a mixing bowl large enough to hold the dough after it has doubled in bulk. Transfer the dough to the prepared bowl, cover and set it out of drafts to rise 2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
- Remove bowl of dough and set out to room temperature for 1 hour before working. Prepare filling by mixing cinnamon, brown sugar and egg whites together with a whisk until smooth. Set aside. Prepare table or mat to roll dough.
- Prepare your pans to bake the cakes. You will need a ½ sized sheet pan or one approximately 13” X15”. Prepare dough by gently kneading into a smooth ball. Divide and shape the dough into 2 smaller, equal portions. Set one dough ball aside to rest. Divide the remaining dough ball into 3 smaller, equal portions. If needed, dust hands and one dough ball with flour. Gently roll ball between your hands, rolling back and forth to form a log. Keep rolling until log is about 7” long then put on mat and starting in the middle of the log roll way from you to flatten, then go to the middle and roll towards you. Keep working in this fashion until you have about a 14” X 4” flat rectangle approximately 1/8” thick. Fold it loosely like a book and set aside while rolling out remaining 2 portions of dough.
- The dough after rolling out and spreading the rich, cinnamon filling or any filling of your choice.
- Lay out all three strips of dough on your mat or counter and brush the outer edge with egg wash which will become the “glue” to hold the dough with filling together. Spoon a layer of filling down the center of each strip using the back of the spoon to apply the filling.
- Gently fold or close the strips lengthwise with a roll and tuck method to form a long tube.Transfer the three strips to your baking pan placing it with long edge perpendicular to your body so you have the longest length with which to work.
Starting with three strips mashed together at the top of your mat and use a little egg wash as your glue. Braid the dough just as you would hair, left over center, right over center, back to left over center and so on. Tighten the strips slightly as you go to form an even straightbraid. Then curve the braid into an oval and connect top and bottom. Don’t worry if it looks messy; just tuck all ends in so they don’t separate in the rise or bake. You can cover with icing in the end.
- Choose a full place and insert your plastic baby being sure to cover it entirely with dough.
Egg wash the entire cake and let rest to rise for 1 hour in a draft-free warm place.
While the 1st cake is rising, prepare the second cake.
Remove from the oven and cool on racks. While they are cooling, prepare the icing.
When cool to the touch, drizzle the icing over the cake and immediately sprinkle the colored sugars on the damp icing.
Have a Mardi Gras party and enjoy!
Note: Tradition in New Orleans is that the person who receives the baby in their slice of cake gets to bring the next King Cake to the next party. There are literally parties every day from January 6th until Mardi Gras.
Amy Stafford Malik 2015©