Two of my favorite Manhattanites arrived in New York by way of Mississippi, and without a doubt I always received the most attention while keeping their company. The harsh staccato of a New Yawk accent was no match for the sweet and syrupy drawl of their “heyy ya’ll”s and “oh mah gawwwh”s, and no matter where I went with them it always turned into a case of all-eyes-on-us.
(And, I should clarify – not that we minded.)
On top of their accents, Katie and Kristen were the best work-allies a girl could ask for. Our trading floor wasn’t exactly teaming with the female persuasion, and to have a few partners in pencil skirts available to dish and gossip with by the water cooler was a very lucky thing, indeed. Though I had visited New Orleans a couple of times before meeting these city-fied Southern belles, I had never experienced a King Cake until a whole one arrived smack in the middle of our office one chilly February morning.
Looking like an oversized Krispy Kreme – covered in a thick gloopy glaze, and dusted in a technicolor pinwheel of purple, green, and yellow sparkling sugars – it didn’t look like anything that would normally appeal to my sweet tooth….but one bite of this cake that was more like a bread, molten in the middle with a cinnamony-sweet filling, and I was enamored.
This particular cake had been specially ordered and flown into our office from New Orleans for these two special ladies in honor of Mardi Gras, and when it was gone – it was gone. King Cake is not exactly something that is sold on every Northern street corner; more cinnamon bun than cake, it manages to touch on all of my favorite dessert flavors: salty, but sweet; rich, but simple. And the most enigmatic thing about this ring-shaped confection? One lucky diner bites into a baby.
Yes. A baby. Thankfully of the plastic persuasion, and in the tradition that whomever bites into the little bugger will be laden with good luck for the coming year….but still. There is something about that tradition that still stirs up a Hansel and Gretel fueled fear in my gut.
As creepy as baking a baby into this cake is, the taste alone is enough to get you over that hump. As a dessert homage to the city that hosted the Super Bowl this year, I decided to give a King Cake a go at home, and I was mostly very pleased with the outcome.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; though it is called a ‘cake,’ it is much more similar to a sweet bread, and I felt a bit like I was walking in the dark when making the dough. Did it rise enough? Does it look right? I tussled around with some self doubt as I assmebled the giant orb, and crossed my fingers as I placed it in the oven.
After making this cake, there are few things I would note; next time, I would brush the dough with melted butter and a cinnamon-sugar mixture before spreading the pecan studded filling over the top, and then roll the dough first into a log, then a circle, to create layers of dough and filling. I think the Swiss-Roll-like contrast would be nice.
Though the traditional cake calls for a dusting of purple, yellow, and green sugars, I opted for all purple – in a tribute to our Ravens that were taking to the field in a (successful!) bid for the Superbowl.
I baked this up the morning of the party, and didn’t even think of getting a fake baby until the cake was already mostly baked up in the oven.
What kind of King Cake comes without a baby?!
Well….I guess my kind. My cobbled together, but still delicious kind…and one that I would be proud to serve to some discerning Southern Ladies, I do declare!
K-Gro and Krit….I hope you approve!!
Makes 1 large cake
From Saveur Magazine
I made my own sanding sugar by placing some rough cut sugar and a couple of drops of food coloring in the bowl of a food processor; feel free to make your own, or purchase sanding sugar at a cake or bake shop.
I did not use any of my above tips (the making the dough into a log thing first…) but I would definitely try it next time.
one – 1/4-oz. package active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
2 3/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
8 Tbsp (1 stick) softened butter
16 oz room temperature cream cheese
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tbsp. maple syrup
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk
purple sanding sugar (And green and yellow if you are traditional – Or purple only if you are a Ravens fan!)
Make the dough: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a hook, combine the yeast, 1/2 tsp of the sugar, and 1/4 cup water heated to 115°. Stir to combine, and let the mixture sit until it has foamed up, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining sugar, milk, light brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk, and beat the mixture on low speed until it is thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.
Turn the mixer off and add the flour and salt, then mix on medium speed until the dough just comes together (it will look rough and shaggy). Turn the mixer to high, and knead the dough for 4 minutes. Add the softened butter and continue to knead the dough on medium speed until it is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 6 minutes. Remove the bowl from mixer, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it sit until it’s doubled in size, about 2 hours.
While the dough rises, make the filling: Mix the cream cheese, brown sugar, pecans, cinnamon, salt, and lemon zest in a large bowl until they are well combined.
When the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it out onto a piece of parchment that has a bit of flour on it. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a large circle, about 1/4″ thick, and at least 2 feet wide. Cut a hole in the center of the circle and pull it with your fingers to widen; then, place dollops of filling around the circle halfway between outer edge and inner hole. Drape the outside edges over the filling and continue rolling the outside dough inward until the filling is covered, punching to seal the edges and widening the inner hole as needed, until the dough covers the inside seam. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it sit for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°; uncover cake and bake it until golden brown, about 30 minutes (go by how golden brown it is….if it’s still pale, let it bake a bit longer). Let the cake cool completely.
Make the icing: Whisk together the sugar and buttermilk in a small bowl until smooth. When the cake is cool, drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake, and then sprinkle the colored sugar over the top. Let the glaze dry (this takes 25-45 minutes), and then enjoy!