Tuesday, March 11, 2014

....is King Cake for Mardi Gras

Happy belated Mardi Gras!
To celebrate last week I decided to make a King Cake. I was a little nervous so about making this for CPB (a New Orleans native) even though I've had good luck with some of their other classics like Beignets, Gumbo and Jambalaya. A King Cake is essentially a Brioche Cinnamon Roll, instead of cutting the roll and baking individual slices spiral side up the roll remains intact, is formed into a ring and baked. I tried to find a recipe with only basic ingredients, some call for sour cream or cream cheese filling, but I wanted to go a more traditional route. There are a few notes I have that will hopefully help anyone trying to make this for the first time.

1. The Sanding Sugar is the only item I couldn't find in a typical grocery. I located it in a specialty baking shop (Do It with Icing), it's finer than typical sprinkles, which will work just fine or there are a few recipes online that show how to color granular sugar for the topping.
2. Creating a King Cake requires some waiting time, I recommend making the dough the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight. Just let it sit out on the counter to warm up slightly before rolling out the dough.
3. The tradition includes placing a plastic baby (represnting baby Jesus) into the cake. Whoever ends up with this slice is supposed to hold the King Cake Party the following year. Instead of a figurine, I chose to use a pecan half BUT if you are using a plastic baby, put the baby in AFTER you've baked the cake. No one wants to bite into a melty baby Jesus.

It took a little more patience than I expected but the result was wonderful. This is a delicious tradition I plan on repeating next year!

Mardi Gras King Cake
makes one 12-inch oval cake

For the Dough
1/2 Cup Milk
2 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp Active Dry Yeast
1/3 Cup Warm Water
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar, Divided
1 Egg
1 Egg Yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp Salt
Pinch of Freshly Grated Nutmeg
3 Cups Flour

For the Filling
1/2 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
1 Tsp Cinnamon
1/3 Cup Chopped Pecans
1/4 Cup Flour
4 Tbsp Butter, Melted

For the Icing and Decoration
2 Cups Confectioners' Sugar
2 Tbsp Light Corn Syrup
2 Tbsp Milk
1/4 tsp Vanilla
Colored Sanding Sugar, in Green, Purple & Yellow
Pecan Half (if you don't have a small plastic baby lying around)

For the Dough
In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the Milk until bubbles appear around the edges. Add the Butter and set aside to cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, dissolve the Yeast in the warm Water with 1 tablespoon of the Sugar. Let stand until bubbled and frothy, about 10 minutes. Add the cooled Milk mixture, the Eggs, remaining Sugar, Vanilla, Salt, and Nutmeg. With the mixer on low, knead in the flour one cup at a time. Increase the speed to medium-high and knead until smooth, about 5-7 minutes.

Scrape the sides and form the dough into a roughly shaped ball.  Spray a large bowl with non-stick spray, slide dough ball into prepared bowl. Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap, and place in a warm, draft free place until doubled in volume, about 60-90 minutes. (After this initial time rising you can place it in the fridge covered, overnight, when you're ready to use the Dough leave it on the counter for 10-15 minutes before working with the dough.)

For the Filling
In a medium bowl, combine the Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Pecans if using, and Flour. Pour in the melted Butter and mix until a paste forms; set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

When the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface. Split the dough in half and roll into a 10x12-inch rectangle. Spread half the filling (it won't be smooth and even) over the dough. Repeat with the remaining half of the dough. Starting along the 12-inch side, roll up the dough into a fairly tight jelly roll (about 2-1/2 inches in diameter), pinching the seems well. Bring the ends together to form an oval, pinching the end seams, as well. (Use lightly damp hands to help 'glue' the ends together, it fuses together better than pinching alone.)  Place the oval onto the prepared baking sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm draft free place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375° F. Bake the cake for 30 minutes, tenting with a sheet of foil the last 10-15 minutes if it appears to be browning too quickly. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the Icing and Decoration
Gently push the plastic Pecan/Plastic Baby in the bottom side of the cake. In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners' Sugar, Milk, Corn Syrup, and Vanilla until smooth. Place the cake (still on the rack) over a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the icing over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Sprinkle with the sugar crystals, alternating colors as you go. Allow the icing to set before slicing. Enjoy!

Happy Baking!

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