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Mardi Gras King Cake

Mardi Gras King Cake

Y‘all… it’s TIME.

It’s time for the brioche-rich, cinnamon-swirled, colorfully sprinkled cake that is KING CAKE! 

It’s carnival time here in New Orleans.  That means that we’re celebrating life, pushing the limits of indulgence, dancing in the streets (most literally), catching as many beads as we can, throwing as many beads as we can, and eating King Cake… all before Lent next Wednesday.  We have a lot to fit into this next week!  

In New Orleans, which is a world in its own, we eat King Cake between very specific dates:  January 6th to honor the Three Kings and Fat Tuesday (the madness just before Lent).

What’s with all of the colorful cake madness?  History.  We need a history lesson.

“The King’s Cake accompanies festivities to commemorate the Epiphany, the day the Magi (interpreted by some to mean “kings”) arrived in Bethlehem and presented gifts to baby Jesus the twelfth night after his birth. The cake is a reenactment of Epiphany, with a bean or baby figurine baked into the cake to symbolize Christ and is eaten throughout Carnival festivities.”  – Three Men and a Baby: A Brief History of King Cakes 

I hesitated to make this cake at home this Mardi Gras.  King Cakes are absolutely everywhere in New Orleans and really… there’s no need to make one at home.  That would be like visiting Paris and staying indoors to make your own croissants. I’m also very new to New Orleans.  Who am I to make a dang King Cake?  Well… here goes nothing (/everything).  

•  Is that a plastic baby Jesus in my cake?  Kinda yea.   

•  10 things to know about Mardi Gras.  Yes… Mardi Gras is only a legal holiday in Louisiana.  It’s a different world.  

•  Mardi Gras Mix Tape Zing!

Mardi Gras King Cake

Here’s what we need:  flour and salt, milk, sugar and yeast.  The makings of a fine and good yeasted bread.  

What takes this treat from bread to cake is fat and flavor.  Lots of melted butter, five creamy egg yolks, ground cinnamon, and lemon zest!  

We’re also going to need a mega amount of sprinkles.  Purple for justice, green for faith, gold for power.  And a little plastic baby to sneak into the cake after baking.  Whomever gets the cake has to buy the next King Cake… and the circle never ever ends.  

If you’re not with us here in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, I hope you make this cake and fill your kitchen with the spirit of this city.  It’s special.  It’s delicious!  It’s Mardi Gras!  

Mardi Gras King Cake

Sugar, yeast, and a spoonful of flour are added to warmed milk.  This is how we activate the yeast.  It’s like the starting line for  the yeast race.

Mardi Gras King Cake

Stir and let the yeast eat all the sugar and flour.  

Mardi Gras King Cake

Once the yeast mixtures comes alive to foam and froth, melted butter, egg yolks, and lemon are whisked in.  

Mardi Gras King Cake

This cake dough is rather soft and wet.  I brought the wet and dry ingredients together with a spatula before kneading it with a dough hook for 7 minutes.  

Leave the dough in the mixing bowl to rise.  No need to dirty another.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest in a warm, draft-free place for an hour and a half.  

Mardi Gras King Cake

Soft, fluffy, and risen!  

This is also where the filling comes together.  Softened butter, sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa powder.  We’re going to mix this into a spreadable paste for the inside of our cake. 

Mardi Gras King Cake

Dough is divided in two.

Mardi Gras King Cake

Rolled to about 20-inches long… the width the flexible.  Spread with buttery spice! 

Mardi Gras King Cake

Roll.  Cinnamon roll style.  

And roll the remaining half of dough!  Same same.  

Mardi Gras King Cake

The two rolls of dough are lined up and twisted together.  

Mardi Gras King Cake

Coaxed into a circle and placed on a lined baking sheet.  

Egg wash to make everything golden as ever.  I let the cake rest for about 30 minutes while the oven preheats.  This allows the cake the stretch out and relax before it gets to work in the oven. 

Mardi Gras King Cake

Baked up big and golden brown.  Once cooled the cake is frosted with a lemon vanilla glaze.  

Mardi Gras King Cake

Call your friends.  Call every single one of them.  You made a King Cake and that’s just about the best thing in the world. 

Soft and rich, cinnamon swirled and sweet glazed!  It’s like a fancy brioche coffee cake, with a tiny plastic baby inside, and regal festive sprinkles on top.  Don’t forget to to lift a corner of the cake and tuck the baby up inside! 

Happy Mardi Gras!  Le Bon Temps Roule! 

Mardi Gras King Cake
Serves 10
Buttery soft cinnamon swirl King Cake with lemon glaze and all the sprinkles.
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Prep Time
2 hr 30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
3 hr
Prep Time
2 hr 30 min
Cook Time
30 min
Total Time
3 hr
For the Dough
  1. 1 cup whole milk, warmed to about 110 degrees F
  2. 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  3. 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  4. 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  5. 3/4 teaspoon salt
  6. 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
  7. 5 large egg yolks
  8. 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  9. 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  10. 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  11. 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  12. 1 large egg, beaten for egg wash
For the Filling
  1. 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  2. 1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  3. 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  4. 1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  5. 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  6. big pinch of salt
For the Glaze
  1. 2 cups powdered sugar
  2. 1/4 cup whole milk
  3. 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  4. 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  5. purple, green, and yellow sprinkles
  6. a tiny plastic baby, to sneak in the cake after it's baked
Instructions
  1. To make the cake, heat milk in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved. Let sit for 5 minutes all allow the yeast to foam.
  2. Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest.
  3. Place the flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the wet mixture all at once to the dry ingredients. Stir to combine with a spatula until combined. Mix the dough with the mixer and the dough hook for 5 minutes. The dough will be rather wet and sticky. That's ok! The dough will form a smooth but loose ball. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure that no flour pockets remain
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside in a draft-free place to let it proof, or rise, for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  5. While the dough rises, combine the filling by mixing all ingredients into a smooth paste.
  6. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. One at a time, roll each piece of dough to about 18-20 inches long. The width will be about 6 to 8 inches.
  7. Spread with half of the buttery filling mixture and roll (cinnamon roll style) starting from the long end of the dough.
  8. Repeat with the second piece of dough. You'll have two rolled ropes of dough. Press and roll each dough out another 2-inches or so to even the thickness of the strands.
  9. Line the ropes of dough up and twist together starting from the center. Bring the edges around and seal into a circle.
  10. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the circular cake on the baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes while the oven preheats.
  11. Brush cake lightly wish egg wash. Place in the oven for 30 minutes to bake until bubbling and golden brown.
  12. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before glazing.
  13. In a medium bowl whisk together powdered sugar, milk, lemon, and vanilla extract. The glaze should be thick but still pourable.
  14. Spread glaze over the cooled cake. Sprinkle with purple yellow and green sprinkles. Lift a corner of the cake and tuck the baby up inside for someone to find! Serve in big wedges with hot coffee. Happy Mardi Gras!
Adapted from John Besh
Adapted from John Besh
Joy the Baker http://joythebaker.com/