Monday, February 20, 2012

A Homemade King Cake for Mardis Gras!

I've made Kings Cake's a couple of times before, but I always used a shortcut, starting with canned cinnamon roll dough. This year, I decided to make one from scratch, with a traditional brioche dough and cream cheese filling.  I took it to a small group gathering yesterday and it was a big hit!  There's still time if you want to make one for Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday).  Here's how:

Place dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl or bread bowl:
4 cups of flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 scant tablespoons of active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon lemon zest (grated lemon peel)
Optional: 4 teaspoons wheat gluten

Mix together well and set aside.  In a small saucepan, melt
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup), then add
1 cup of milk

and warm until just above body temp - 100 to 105 degrees F. Remove from heat and whisk in:

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks (save the whites - you can freeze egg whites (but not egg yolks) and use them to make merangues later)

Slowly add the warm liquid to the flour mixture, stirring as you go. Mix it together well until all flour is incorporated, and continue to knead until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky.  I used our KitchenAid stand mixer with the dough hooks, and it makes short work of it on medium high for 4 minutes. If you are doing it by hand, this will take about 6 to 8 minutes of kneading.

Cover with a damp cloth and set in a warm place to rise until doubled. It will take about 2 hours. A good trick is to turn your oven on for one minute, then turn it off and turn the oven light on. Then the oven will hold enough heat to help the bread rise without being too hot or drafty. This will work as long as the light bulb is an incandescent one. A flourescent bulb does not generate heat, so it wouldn't help.

While the dough is rising, make the filling:

1 1/2 packages of cream cheese (about 12 ounces total)
1/2 cup marmalade or preserves
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup sugar (to taste, depending on how sweet your preserves are)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix together well and set aside.

When dough has risen, lay it out on a lightly floured board and roll it into a rectangle that is about 30 inches long and only 5 or 6 inches wide.  Spread the filling down the middle along the entire length of it, then fold one long edge over to meet the other and pinch together well.   Roll along it with your hands until it is a cylinder shape with the sealed edge on the bottom, and bring together into a circle, pinching the open edge together.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or waxed paper and quickly lift the dough from the board onto the baking sheet with the sealed edge down.

Now's the time to tuck the baby, the feve, or the bean into the cake - put it underneath the cake and push it up well into the dough so that it is surrounded by dough and hidden from Herod's soldiers. I used a pecan half for this cake, as I didn't have a plastic feve and was nervous about someone maybe breaking a tooth on a porcelain one (besides, I didn't want to part with any antique feves from my collection!).

Use a sharp, greased knife and make shallow cuts across the top of the wreath about 5 inches apart (at right angles to the cake so that the cut goes from the inside edge of the circle to the outside edge). These will give the cake its "crown" appearance.  I forgot this step when making the cake pictured, so it is not essential.

If you want to give it a Mexican twist, the New Orleans King Cake can become a Rosca de reyes by adding dried fruits to the top: figs, candied orange peel, dried cherries or citron.  Or, do a little research to see which variations were most popular in the countries of your ancestors - this tradition is truly ancient, and was formerly celebrated by Christians all around the world.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while the cake rests. Then put the cake in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheet.

Mix icing and make colored sugar while the cake is cooling:

Colored sugar:
6 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided into 3 separate cups (2 tablespoons for each color).
Food coloring

Work in a place that can be easily cleaned and will not stain, wear and old apron and use vinyl gloves to keep the food color off your hands as it will stain. Use 2 or 3 drops of food color for each cup. Make one cup of golden yellow, one of green and one of purple.  To make green: 1 drop of blue and one or 2 drops of yellow, right into the cup with the sugar. As you mix it together with with sugar, they will blend and make green. To make purple: 1 or 2 drops of blue and one or two drops of red - depending on whether you like a bluer shade of purple or a redder shade.  As you mix it together with the sugar, it will become purple.


2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon of milk

Stir together sugar and lemon juice until powdered sugar is thoroughly mixed. If it needs more liquid, add milk a teaspoonful at a time until it is the consistency you like.  Drizzle the icing over the cake, let sit for a few moments to stabilize, and then sprinkle the colored sugars alternately all the way around it.

Pick the cake up carefully, move it to a serving platter, and present to your guests!

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