I had the good fortune of being invited to a party last night to celebrate Mardi Gras. The party was a blast, complete with beads, Cajun food, masks, and decorations of purple, green, and gold. Of course, as the good guest that I am, this week I asked what I could bring. The very simple response was “maybe something sweet” so, of course, I had to bring a traditional Mardi Gras dessert…king cake!
King cake is a sweet bread, baked in a ring, covered in a sugary icing, and usually decorated with colored sugar in the traditional colors of Mardi Gras, purple, green, and gold. One special part of the king cake is that a little plastic baby is hidden in the cake after it’s baked, and, whoever gets the piece of cake with the baby, “wins”. I say wins in quotes because it seems to vary what you win. Some people say you’re the “king” for the day, others say you win the privilege of bringing the cake the next year. Not really sure the official rules, as until yesterday, I had never made one or tasted one.
Because I’ve never made it before, I had to do some digging for a recipe. I came across a traditional king cake recipe from Southern Living and then also a cream cheese-filled king cake recipe, also from Southern Living. Since I can’t pass up anything cream cheese-filled, I opted for that one, and then ended up sort of melded the two together. It was a big hit at the party, even though I didn’t add the baby. I searched and searched for a plastic baby (and by searched and searched, I mean the night before the party, I went to the grocery store, a party store, and a craft store, then gave up…but still, I tried), and I wasn’t able to find one. So I just skipped it, although I think it would have been fun to have it. I hear you can substitute something else, you just need something someone’s not going to choke on that could be hidden inside after it’s baked but before it’s iced.
For the recipe I picked, it makes 2 cakes. It was very easy to half, and there was plenty of cake for the party. First, heat 8 oz of sour cream, 1/6 c sugar, 2 tablespoons of butter, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a small saucepan over a low flame until the butter melts. You’ll want to stir often just to be sure nothing burns. Once everything is melted, you want to cool it to about 100-110 degrees. Meanwhile, stir together 1/4 oz envelope of active dry yeast with 1/4 cup of warm water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar, and let stand 5 minutes.
Once the yeast has sat for 5 minutes and the sour cream mixture is the right temperature, beat these together with 1 egg and 1 cup of flour (the recipe called for bread flour, but I used all-purpose, and it turned out great) at medium speed until smooth. Then reduce the speed to low and add 2 cups flour (1 cup at a time), and mix until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, for about 10 minutes or so. Place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled for about an hour. My house was cold, so I turned the oven on to its lowest setting for a few minutes, then turned it off, and put the bowl in there. Just be sure it’s not too hot.
After an hour, punch down the dough, and roll it out to a 22×12 inch rectangle. Beat 1/2 cup sugar, 8 oz softened block of cream cheese, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (this was my change from the original), and 1 egg yolk on medium speed until smooth. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the dough, leaving about a 1 inch border. Then roll the whole thing up, starting at the 22 inch side. Transfer to a parchment lined cookie sheet with the seam side down and bring the ends together to form a ring. I had to moisten the ends with water and pinch to get them to stick together. Then cover and let rise till doubled again, about 20-30 minutes.
Bake the dough at 375 degrees until golden. The recipe says that will take 14-16 minutes, but it took mine more like 25 minutes. Then cool the cake for about 10 minutes, and put it on your serving tray. Cover it with the glaze (mix 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons butter melted, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of milk until spreadable…and you can add more milk or use less, depending on the consistency). Then, while it’s still wet, cover it with colored sugar. The traditional is purple, green, and gold. Just sprinkle bands of color all the way around.
If you’re looking for a show stopper dessert for Mardi Gras, this is definitely a good pick. It did take a while because you had to wait for the dough to rise on several occasions, but it was delicious and I thought it was worth it. When you bring this to the table, you will definitely impress your guests!