Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Let Them Eat (King) Cake

Cake may not be the first thing you think of when you hear the words "Mardi Gras." More likely, you have visions of raucous debauchery heralding the last hurrah before 40 days and nights of oh-so-exciting Lenten deprivation. But in addition to beads and booze, King Cake is another (albeit tamer) New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition--harkening back to the Christian three kings tradition--inexpicably immortalized by a coffee cake doused in icing and colored sugar.

To celebrate Mardis Gras of the past, I've made the French style of King Cake that inspired the American version we celebrate with today, as well as a total lazy person's King Cake back when I was afraid of yeast. But this year I decided to go all out for a friend's Mardi Gras-themed dinner party and finally attempt the New Orleans style of cake we all know from this time of year.

When I decided to take the King Cake plunge I knew right away that I wanted to go with a recipe from David Guas--well-known in the DC area for bringing a taste of the Big Easy to Arlington, VA with his new cafe Bayou Bakery, and also for his tome of amazing southern-style New Orleans sweets, DamGoodSweet.  At the party I also finally had a chance to sample Bayou's beignets (behn-yay, or French-style doughnuts) and cupcakes along with a delcious feast of gumbo, étouffée, kale chips, crawfish and muffaletta crostini courtesy of Department of Plate. The beignets and king cake were the perfect ending to our Cajun cuisine and helped "let the good times roll" as they say down south...sans flashing and open containers of liquor, of course. :)

A couple of notes: this cake is made with yeast (you're essentially making a sweet loaf of bread) so leave yourself plenty of time to allow for its two rises.  Also, the icing dries quickly, so be sure to have your colored sugar prepped before you start frosting as you'll want to be able to sprinkle liberally before it hardens.   
Beignets and cupcakes!

David Guas' King Cake
1 (1-1/4-oz.) package dry-active yeast
1/4 cup warm milk (105°F–115°F or warm to the touch)
1 cup plus 6 Tbs. bread flour plus extra for rolling
1 Tbs. honey
3/4 cup cake flour
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp.ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. table salt
5 Tbs. unsalted butter,   at room temperature
1 plastic baby figurine (to hide in the cake), optional

For the egg wash:
1 large egg
1 Tbs. milk

For the icing and decoration:
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 Tbs. light corn syrup
3 Tbs. milk
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 cups granulated sugar
Green food coloring
Gold or yellow food coloring
Purple or red and blue food  coloring

1. Whisk the yeast with the warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer until dissolved. Add the 6 tablespoons of bread flour and the honey and, using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until fairly smooth (there will still be a few lumps), 30 seconds to 1 minute, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary.

2. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.Once the dough has doubled, add 3/4 cup of the remaining bread flour, the cake flour, eggs, egg yolk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and almond extracts, and salt. Mix on low speed until combined, then switch to a dough hook, increase the speed to medium, and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and begin adding 4 Tbs. of the butter 1 Tbs. at a time, mixing well between additions. Continue to knead until the dough forms a slack ball (it will ride the dough hook, be tacky, and not slap the bottom of the bowl, but it should generally come together into a loose mass), 2 to 3 minutes. If the dough doesn’t come together, continue kneading while adding up to 1/4 cup of the reserved bread flour, until it does.

3. Grease a large bowl with 1/2 Tbs. of the remaining butter and transfer the dough to the bowl, turning it over in the bowl to coat with butter. Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap or damp kitchen towel and place the bowl in a draft-free spot until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

4. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and grease the parchment paper with the remaining butter. Generously flour your work surface using the remaining 1/4 cup of bread flour (if you used the bread flour in the dough, dust your work surface with more bread flour). Turn the dough out onto the work surface and sprinkle the top with some flour. Use your hands to press and flatten it into a rectangle. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 1/4-inch-thick strip that is about 24 inches long by about 6 inches wide. Starting with one of the long sides, roll the dough on top of itself, making a long, thin baguette-shaped length. Pinch the edge to the body of the dough to seal, turn the dough so it lies horizontally on your work surface, and gently roll it on your work surface to even out any bulges and create a somewhat consistent 1-1/2-inch-wide rope. Bring the two ends of the dough together and pinch them into one another to seal. Carefully transfer the dough oval or circle to the prepared sheet pan. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and set in a warm, dry spot to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

5. Heat the oven to 375°F. To make the egg wash, whisk the egg and the milk together in a small bowl. Brush the egg wash over the top and sides of the dough, and bake the king cake until golden and cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes. Immediately after removing the cake from the oven, make a small slit in the bottom of the cake and insert the baby figurine (if using). Set on a rack to cool completely.

To make the icing:While the cake cools, make the icing. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, milk, and vanilla together in the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed until smooth and completely incorporated. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel until you are ready to glaze the cake.
To make the colored sugar, measure 1 cup of the sugar into each of 3 resealable quart-size plastic bags. Add 4 drops of green food coloring to one bag, 4 drops of gold or yellow food coloring to another bag, and 4 drops of purple food coloringto the last bag (if you don’t have purple, make it yourself: measure 2 drops of red and 2 drops of blue food coloring onto a spoon and mix with a cake tester or toothpick until combined). Seal each bag and then vigorously shake to combine the sugar and food coloring.Spoon the icing over the cooled cake. Immediately after icing, decorate with the tinted sugar.


  1. Yours looks a lot better than mine! Two things I learned making King's Cake: it takes a while (like you said, because the yeast has to rise) and it's messy. Icing + green, yellow & purple sprinkles --> my kitchen was a mess!

  2. Thanks! Think I definitely got lucky with the yeast this time, and the icing was definitely a mess. Wish I could have tried Bayou's actual cake but I heard they ran out pretty quickly. Maybe next year :)

  3. Mmm, looks like a delicious way to celebrate. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog and I'd like to invite you to stop by and link your cake up. http://sweet-as-sugar-cookies.blogspot.com/2011/03/sweets-for-saturday-8.html