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.
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.
stoneware baking dish from King Arthur Flour-- which made baking this sweet bread so much easier.
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: