Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mardis Gras King Cake (with cream cheese filling)

I've  been to New Orleans, several times, but never during the Mardis Gras season.  (I'm not so sure I could handle the crowds and craziness.) Mardi Gras season begins on January 6, of each year and ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent. One of the wonderful traditions of Mardi Gras, and probably the most delicious, is the King Cake. The "traditional" King Cake is made from twisted strands of cinnamon dough.
A few years ago, I was handed a slice of "King Cake" from a local bakery.  It was bone-dry, and didn't have a whole lot of flavor, and so I made it my personal mission to try baking my own King Cake.   I really enjoy baking sweet rolls, and once I searched various recipes, I decided to make a brioche-type dough, with a cream cheese filling.

Each cake is decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors - purple representing justice, green representing faith, and gold representing power-- and I think they look so festive.

Working with yeast is a fear that I have successfully overcome.  I just remind myself that yeast likes to be warm (not hot) and likes to be fed something "sweet".

In this case, warm water and sugar makes the active dry yeast bubbly and creamy.  To the dough, I'll be adding some freshly grated nutmeg as well.

I keep ample bags of King Arthur Flour unbleached flour, because it's non-GMO and has a protein level. For me, that spells success.

Making bread dough, with my stand mixer reduces that amount of elbow grease that I need.  For the wet ingredients, I'm using scalded milk, butter and eggs.  Once the dough has been mixed and kneaded, it's placed into an oiled bowl, covered and left to rise for 2-3 hours.


However, I have a shortcut that works for me, every time. I turn on my oven to WARM for 2 minutes, then shut if off.  This creates a comfy and cozy warm "proofing" area, that speeds up the process for me. This dough rose, beautifully, in just over an hour!

While the dough was proofing, I made the cream cheese filling: cream cheese, a little flour, lemon zest and juice, confectioner's sugar and pure vanilla.

The dough has doubled, and I gently press it down, and press it into a rectangular shape.  I spread the cream cheese filling, leaving about a 1" border.

Grabbing the long end, I rolled this up like a jelly roll, and then pinched the seams together so that the cream cheese filling wouldn't ooze out.

I'm ordered this stoneware baking dish from King Arthur Flour-- which made baking this sweet bread so much easier.

Because I had leftover dough, I used aluminum foil to help the bread bake with a traditional opening.  I've also read that you can shape the dough by wrapping it around a cake pan, then carefully remove the pan.

I brushed the "cake" with an egg wash, and baked it for about 40 minutes-- ten minutes longer than the recipe said.  The difference, I think, is that this dough recipe makes two King Cakes, but this pan is quite generous, so I made one large King Cake.

It puffed up beautifully!  I allowed it to cool, before glazing and decorating the King Cake.

The glaze is simply confectioner's sugar, lemon juice, milk and corn syrup. 

To decorate with Mardis Gras colors, add the colored coarse sugar-- and don't forget to push in the  plastic baby through the bottom of the cake! Like the Biblical story, the "search for the baby" adds excitement, as each person waits to see in which slice of cake the baby will be discovered. 

While custom holds that the person who "finds" the baby will be rewarded with "good luck", that person is also traditionally responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party or gathering.  This year's Fat Tuesday begins on February 17th!  So eat and enjoy, before Lent!

TASTING NOTES: This sweet bread dough was far from bland tasting. I found the dough was wonderful to handle-- not too sticky, not too dry.  It had a wonderful buttery flavor, and the cream cheese was subtle.  That is, the filling baked into the brioche type dough, and wasn't super thick.  I liked the crunch of the coarse sugar.  I would make this again, and not necessary just for Mardis Gras.  I would think I could shape this similar to my orange rolls and enjoy them that way.

Laissez les bon temps roulez! Let the good times roll! 

Here's the printable recipe:

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Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Great job with the cake Debbie. I used to see King cakes in the grocery store when we lived in Mississippi and I always wondered if they were any good. Now I know it's best to make your own.

Barbara Bakes said...

Such a pretty, fun cake. Love the cream cheese filling.

Karen said...

Interesting take on a hometown treat. Looks tasty.

Joanne said...

I have no intention of ever going to NOLA during Mardi Gras...but I am totally down with eating all the King Cake! So pretty!

Kim said...

I'm so glad to see you made something to celebrate Mardi Gras. I always feel torn this time of year between the Superbowl, Mardi Gras, Valentine's Day and everything else. There's so much to celebrate! Everything you make is always impressive. I'd love a slice of this cake. A slice in every color. Ha Ha! Hey, we have to make sure one color doesn't taste better than the other, right?

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

I'm like you about the crowds at Mardi Gras. Your cake sounds like a great way of celebrating without all the people. :)

Roz Corieri Paige said...

This King cake looks like it could be in any bakery window in New Orleans! I am doing a post on Mardi Gras and wondering if I can share this with other recipes? I'm sure yours is filled with sweetness and super moist!