In the summer of 2008 I visited New Orleans for the first time. Though it was the end of May/early June and hot as hell, I fell in love immediately. For the next 6 months I actually contemplated moving. (But in October I met T and all bets were off.) However, I had already booked my flight for Mardi Gras the next February. My gracious host, D, a friend from college, put me up for a week and showed me how to celebrate Mardi Gras, native-style. It was awesome, and not at all like you see on TV. It was more like an enormous block party with grills and tents and rented Port-A-Loos, and family and friends and kids running everywhere, and food and beer and beads galore. Not the drunken boob-fest typically portrayed. Someday, I’m going back.
Part of the Mardi Gras tradition is the King Cake. Last year I hosted a Mardi Gras party – which was a great success – but the King Cake was awful (I blame the recipe). But we sliced up anyway (to see who would get the trinket), and the fella who found it – his wife gave birth to twins last Monday! So apparently that cake had some luck in it after all.
This year the supper club that T and me go to had a Cajun/Creole night. Armed with a *new* recipe, I went for the King Cake, this time with fantastic results! It was a hit! We’ll see how the guy who found the trinket this year fairs in the baby department, haha!
-1 cup milk
-1/4 cup butter (4TBS), melted or softened
-1TBS dry active yeast (.5oz; 2 packages)
-2/3 cup warm water (11o°)
-1/2 cup sugar, divided
-1 1/2 salt
-1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
-5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
-2 8oz packages cream cheese
-2 cups sugar
-1 cup powdered sugar
-1 tsp lemon extract
-2 TBS milk (more if icing is too thick)
-2 TBS sugar (per colour)
-3 drops food colouring
Scald milk (bring to boil and immediately remove from heat) and stir in butter. Allow to cool to room temperature (approximately 30 minutes.) You can speed the cooling by placing bowl in refrigerator, but don’t let cool past 60°.
In another bowl, dissolve yeast with 1 TBS sugar in 2/3 cup warm water. Let stand until creamy, approximately 10 minutes.
When milk/butter mixture has cooled and yeast is bubbly, combine and whisk in eggs. Stir in remaining cup minus 1 TBS sugar, salt, and nutmeg. Beat flour into mixture one cup at a time. Once dough comes together, turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. If you have a stand mixer, change beater paddle to dough hook and “knead” for 10 minutes. You will need extra flour if kneading by hand. I added approximately 1/2 cup of flour to the stand mixer while kneading. (Dough is very sticky.)
Place dough in lightly oiled bowl; turn to coat. Cover and set in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until dough has doubled in size.
While you’re waiting for the dough to rise, mix cream cheese with sugar and set aside. For coloured sprinkles, grab 3 small plastic containers and put 2TBS sugar in each. Drop 3 drops of food colouring ( yellow; green; red & blue) into respective containers and shake ’em like the devil until dye is well mixed; set aside. I recommend waiting until the cake is in the oven before mixing icing. It tends to dry out/thicken if left for too long.
Preheat oven to 375°. Once dough has doubled in size, punch down and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, stretch dough into long rectangles, approximately 16″x 5″. Place half of cream cheese mixture in center of each and fold-over long edges. Lay dough pieces parallel to each other and gently twist together (like braiding, but with two pieces instead of three). Twist dough into a circle and pinch ends together. Lightly grease sheet pan and move cake onto pan. (Grab a friend to help move the dough so that it won’t tear.) Bake for 35 minutes. (Alternately, you can let dough rise again for 45 minutes before baking. I didn’t have time to let the dough rise a second time, and it turned out just fine.)
Remove cake from oven and transfer to large plate. Drizzle with glaze and coloured sugar; push trinket (or plastic baby) into bottom of cake. Warn guests of choking hazard and serve!
A Brief History of the King Cake
The modern day King Cake was introduced at the Twelfth Night Revelers (one of New Orleans oldest krews) ball in 1870. Rather than select a Mardi Gras King directly, the king was chosen by chance by whoever found the bean in his slice of cake. The traditional King Cake trinket is/was a bean, however, the more common trinket used today is a small (plastic) baby. The person who finds the trinket in their slice of cake is declared “King or Queen for the Day”, and is responsible for hosting the next year’s Mardi Gras party.
For a more thorough history, visit Wikipedia.