Monday, February 20, 2012

King Cake

I'm gonna be honest with you, readers. I'm a bad New Orleanian (or Terrytownian if you want to be super specific and not as cool sounding). I haven't been to Mardi Gras since I was 17 thanks to a combination of college, grad school and being poor and unemployed on a couch. Sure I've drunk too much and mysteriously woken up with colorful beads, but I haven't been to the real thing in 9 years.

Mardi Gras truly is a magical time when an entire state (and many tourists) come together to fill their lives with joyous parades, delicious food and shiny trinkets (and, if you're doing it right, regret). It's such an essential part of the life of someone from Louisiana that my prom was even held at Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World.
My first king cake attempt during the practice run on Sunday. Notice the weird sugar clumps (Also, it's not actually closed, I just angled it so it'd look that way. Yay, trickery!) 

Even though I wasn't going to be back home this year, I was at least going to pretend I was there by having the ultimate Mardi Gras delicacy- the cinnamon and sugar packed King Cake (complete with creepy plastic baby!). This would be no simple task, so it was going to require not one but four separate king cakes- two on Sunday in a practice run and two on Monday for the official work cake.

King Cake
Modified from Southern Living
Servings: 2 cakes
Time: 3 hours

This is where king cakes come from.
1/4 cup butter
16 oz. sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 .25 oz envelopes active dry yeast
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 eggs
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
6 oz cream cheese, softened
2 slightly creepy plastic babies
I figured out why LSU is purple and gold. They hate green!

3 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp butter, melted
3 tbsp milk
Vanilla extract
Almond extract
Green food coloring
Yellow food coloring
Purple food coloring (2 red + 1 blue)
Green coarse sugar
Yellow coarse sugar
Purple coarse sugar

Rolled out with cream cheese, brown sugar and cinnamon.

  1. Melt the butter, 1/3 cup sugar, sour cream and salt together in a pan over low heat stirring often. Once melted, let cool to between 100 and 110 F.
  2. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1 tbsp sugar in the warm water and let stand for 5 minutes.
  3. Add in the butter mixture, eggs and 2 cups of flour and blend with an electric mixer until smooth (about 2 minutes). 
  4. Continue stirring in flour until a soft, workable dough forms (should be right at about the 6 1/2 cups mark).
  5. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic on a lightly floured surface. 
  6. Turn to coat in a well greased bowl then cover and let sit until it doubles in size (about an hour).
  7. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  8. Mix the cinnamon and brown sugar together and set aside.
  9. Divide the dough in half and roll thinly into a large rectangle with one side considerably larger than the other. 
  10. Spread on half of the cream cheese and a little bit of softened butter the sprinkle on half of the cinnamon/brown sugar mixture to cover well.
  11. Roll like a jellyroll from the long side then place the seam side down on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bring the ends together to close the ring. Moisten and pinch the edges together to form a seal. Make sure there's enough space in the middle so the shape can be retained (or you can cheat and put something like a metal coffee can in the space to keep it from warping).
  12. Let sit for 20 minutes until it bulks up.
  13. Repeat for the remaining dough.
  14. Cook each for 15 minutes or until golden.
  15. Once cooled, add the baby by pushing it in from the bottom of the cake.
  16. Divide the frosting components (sans the sugars) into 3 bowls (one for purple, green and gold). Mix well with a fork until a slightly thickened icing forms. If too thick, add very small amounts of milk (a little milk goes a long way).
  17. Frost the cake in bands of alternating colors.
  18. Sprinkle on the various colored sugars.
  19. Let the frosting harden and serve.
  20. Wake up on Bourbon Street. Immediately get a tetanus shot.
I wanted to fry this for the world's most awesome giant donut.
I'm definitely glad I had my pilot run on Sunday, as I learned quite a bit about making a king cake. I originally mistakenly put only half the yeast, which didn't affect the taste at all but led to some tiny king cakes. Also, finding the proper balance of cream cheese filling is key because it can cause the interior to get entirely too soggy (a mistake from cake number one). By the time Monday night rolled around, I was confident with my recipe, which had several important changes from the original. These included brown sugar and cream cheese in the center of the cake and the use of almond extract in the icing. All of these modifications were integral to making the perfect Fat Tuesday experience (although my closing technique still needed a little work).

He's coming for your soul!
There are many possible reasons to love king cake- the crazy cinnamonyness, the endless possible fillings, the 50 different ways to enjoy sugar on/in it, the longing you feel for it since it's only around for about 2 months out of the year (just like you damned Cadbury cream eggs) or the fact that a plastic baby is baked inside the cake (Seriously, think about that for a second. They take a plastic baby and put it in the oven to held add your daily dose of carcinogens and some luck. I added mine after because it kind of freaked the scientist in me out.). My personal favorite was always the icing. I recall stealing the icing from other pieces of king cake as a child to make a piece with super frosting mountains (only to later be disappointed that I had to suffer through pieces with no icing. Stupid past Terry.). For this, I essentially adapted Erika and Bryan's cucidati icing to great effect (they're both from Louisiana so obviously their frosting should work for King Cake by the transitive property...). The almond component was key to making this worthy of me scooping out the drippings on the tray with my finger (you can practically brush your teeth with it!).

1 out of 4 cakes actually closed! I'm getting good at this.
Even though I couldn't be back home, this was a worthy substitute. I had a lot of fun trying and learning about baking from the king cake (plus I upped my N.O. street cred like twentyfold). But the celebratory baking wasn't done yet. I made sure Fat Tuesday lived up to its name by also making some Mardi Gras cookies inspired by the snickerdoodle (and topped with that King Cake icing).
Cinnamony inner goodness
I was glad that I could add another fond Mardi Gras memory this year to go along with such personal favorites as devouring moon pies thrown from floats while starving at parades (see even bad food is key to Mardi Gras) and Erika and I almost impaling ourselves on the giant toy spears they for some reason give to small children at parades (gotta love NOLA). If I make it out of this sugar coma, maybe I'll try to go back next year.
Stay tuned for more Mardi Gras themed madness.

No comments:

Post a Comment