Carnival season comes with a soft knock at the door this year. I regret to say that we don’t get to open the door and leap into the arms of our beloved Mardi Gras, but she’ll be gracious and leave the cake she brings with her every year on our doorstep.
Mardi Gras 2021 look a lot different than Mardi Gras past because, well.. can you see me gesturing wildly at our pandemic world?
The thing is, you can’t keep a good time down in New Orleans. Art and expression always finds a way in this city. Instead of floats moving down St Charles this year, New Orleanians are volunteering their homes to be transformed into floats for the city to enjoy… just differently. We mourn all the gatherings and glory – gosh it is so great. Let’s just say we’re resting and working on our costumes for 2022.
Last year’s Mardi Gras, in our blissful unknowing was INCREDIBLE. I might say it was my best and proudest Mardi Gras – costumes on point, plans a plenty, houseguests galore, and laugh-dancing through the actual streets. I can’t be greedy about that kind of joy – just happy it happened at all.
There’s one thing this current world can’t take from Mardi Gras and you already know I’M TALKING ABOUT CAKE. We’re leaning hard into this yeasty tradition this year. Every year I make a new New Orleans King Cake recipe (or two) but this year’s iteration is a doughy pull-apart creation inspired by one of the most popular old recipes on my site to date: Cinnamon Sugar Pull Apart Bread (taking it all the way back to 2011). For years this bread has been begging to be a King and, well friends… King has arrived.
Update: I made a small-batch muffin version of this epic cake! Recipe here.
Have you been on a King Cake journey with me before?
Maybe you made the Traditional King Cake a few years back? The Galette des Rois Cookies with rough puff pastry and pistachio filling? The One-Bowl King Cake that you mix in the very pan it’s baked in? I know I know… so many cakes. I just really want you to pull some Mardi Gras spirit from your oven. It really is special.
Here’s what you’ll need for this year’s Pull-Apart King Cake:
• active dry yeast, sugar, and flour. This will be our bread base.
• butter, eggs, and whole milk because we’re making a deliciously enriched dough.
• granulated sugar and spices for the filling.
• powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla for the glaze.
• sprinkles (a must), and a feve or little baby to be extra traditional.
This recipe comes together fairly simply. The only major note – you’ll make a mess of creating little sheets of dough. Embrace it. Mardi Gras is always a little bit of a mess. That’s how you know you’re doing it right.
To start, we’ll activate our yeast in a few tablespoons of warm water and a pinch of sugar.
We’re just bringing the yeast to life, giving it a little food to snack on. We’ll know our yeast is activated if it becomes foamy and fluffy on top. You may also notice a few air bubbles. Really do let the yeast sit without disturbing or stirring it. Stirring it will flatten the signs of life and leave you wondering if your yeast is alive.
This dough really is simple to bring together. Everything goes into the bowl – dry ingredients and wet ingredients the whole shabang.
I use a stand mixer because I think it’s easiest to bring this soft, enriched dough together with a dough hook. You could certainly make this dough by hand, being careful not to add too much additional flour. The dough should be soft, supple and slightly tacky though not sticky enough to coat your hands in doughmess.
Before I connect the dough hook, I stir together 4 cups of flour and the rest of the ingredients into a shaggy dough with a spoon or spatula. A quick stir gives the dough hook something to hold on to as it mixes – a little head start.
Don’t fret. I know the dough looks wet. We have more flour to add.
Knead the dough into a cohesive dough ball. It may not be entirely smooth but you will find that the dough collects around the dough hook and doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl. It should feel like a tender baby dough pillow and lightly spring back to the touch.
Cover the dough and allow it to rest until almost doubled in size. While the dough rises, stir together the sugar and spice for the filling.
Ok here’s when things get fun (and messy).
Deflate the dough and roll it out to a 1/4-inch thickness. Brush generously with butter and sprinkle with spiced sugar.
Slice the dough into 2 1/2-inch squares. I have a kitchen ruler for such tasks.
Stack 5 or 6 high and fashion them around a 10-inch greased cast iron skillet. In the center of the cast iron place a 1-cup ramekin top side down. We’ll bake the ramekin with the cake, helping give our dough pieces a bit of structure and shape. It will be fairly easy to remove once the cake is baked.
Cheeky, right? Also super satisfying.
Let a few of the dough pieces fold and flop. They’ll all bake up golden and beautiful.
Do you want to talk about how much sugar stays on the counter? It’s a lot. Sprinkle it over the dough folds if you’d like.
Bake to golden brown, lightly bubbling, and utterly beautiful.
It’s a show stopper already, but we must MUST add a drizzle of glaze and our Mardi Gras colors.
Whisk the glaze to thick and pourable. Allow the cake to cool to slightly warm room temperature before glazing.
Drizzle the cake with glaze and sprinkle generously in alternating colors of purple, gold, and green.
This one feels good, friends!
I like to serve this cake from the cast iron it was baked in. Just dig in and start peeling the sheets of cake away and directly into your mouth. Plates make it more formal. I know this cake best, sanding over it at the counter with a steamy cup of coffee.
Happy Mardi Gras. Sending you so much love from New Orleans!
Photos with my dear Jon Melendez.Print
A yeasted King Cake baked as sheets of dough with sugar and spice.
For the Dough:
- 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoon warm water
- Pinch of sugar
- 4 1/2 – 5 (571 – 635 grams) cups all-purpose flour, divided
- 1/3 cup (67 grams) granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup whole milk, lightly warmed
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten to combine
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the Filling:
- 1 1/4 cups (225 grams) granulated sugar
- 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoons fresh ground nutmeg
- 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
For the Topping:
- 1 1/2 cups (188 grams) powdered sugar
- 2–3 tablespoons whole milk plus a dash of lemon juice if you’d like
- Pinch of salt
- Splash of pure vanilla extract
- yellow, green, and purple sprinkles
- A little plastic baby or your favorite feve
- In a small bowl whisk together yeast, warm water, and a pinch of sugar. Allow the mixture to foam to life, about 5 minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer combine 4 cups flour, sugar, salt, softened butter, warm milk and water, eggs and vanilla extract.
- Add the yeast mixture.
- Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon or spatula until it combines into a shaggy dough.
- Place a dough hook on the stand mixer and mix the dough on low speed until it begins to combine. Gradually add the remaining cup of flour until the dough forms a cohesive ball around the dough hook. The dough should have enough flour to pull away from the sides of the bowl and have enough liquid to feel moist but not sticky.
- Knead the dough on a clean counter for 10 turns to ensure the dough is well combined and springs back to the touch.
- Place the dough is a large, lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm space and allow to rest until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- While the dough rises, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg for the filling. Set aside. Melt butter. Set aside. Lightly grease and flour a 10-inch cast iron skillet and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out. The dough should be 12-inches tall and about 20-inches long. If you can’t get the dough to 20-inches long… that’s okay. Just roll so that it’s less than 1/2-inch thick. Use a pastry brush to spread melted butter across all of the dough. Sprinkle with all of the sugar and cinnamon mixture. It might seem like a lot of sugar but you’re doing it right. You’ll lose some sugar to the countertop.
- Slice the dough into squares about 2 1/2-inches each. Carefully stack 5 or 6 of the sugar squares on top of one another.
- Place a 1-cup ramekin in the center of the greased cast iron.
- Carefully place stacks of dough around the ramekin so they stand up but loosely fan. Continue placing each stack around the ramekin until the entire ring is stacked with dough.
- Place a clean kitchen towel over the pan and allow to rest for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven. Place racks in the upper third and center of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Place the parchment lined baking sheet on the center rack. Remove the towel from the cake and place in the oven above the baking sheet to catch any sugary drips that might come from the cast iron. Allow to bake for 26 to 32 minutes until golden and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to rest until the cake is cool enough to remove the center ramekin.
- Whisk together powdered sugar, milk and lemon (if using), salt and vanilla to a pourable stream. Drizzle over cooled cake and top with yellow, green, and purple sprinkles. Add a baby and share with many.