Mardi Gras is just around the corner and the vibrant New Orleans King Cake is about to pop up everywhere. Although this is just one variety of king cake it is fun to look at and I have been making it for years. There's a long history of king cake and multiple types that I will get into later but first let's get into the recipe.
New Orleans King Cake
550g All Purpose Flour
2 ¼ tsp Yeast
250g Whole Milk, warmed no more than 110℉
75g Granulated Sugar
100g Unsalted Butter, melted
1 tsp Salt
225g Cream Cheese, soft
50g Granulated Sugar
1 tbsp Cinnamon
100g Chopped Pecans, optional
75g Rum Soaked Raisins, optional
1 lb Powdered Sugar
as needed Water
as needed Sprinkles or dye (purple, yellow, green)
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the yeast, flour, milk, sugar, butter, and salt.
2. With a dough hook, knead dough for 3-4 minutes until a smooth dough forms.
3. Place dough into a greased bowl, cover, and proof until double. About an hour.
4. While dough is proofing, make the filling by beating the cream cheese, sugar, and cinnamon.
5. Once the dough has doubled, roll out on a lightly floured surface to 6-8 inches by 20-25 inches. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the bottom 2/3's of the dough and sprinkle with pecans and raisins if using. (If doing a baby inside place at this point)
6. Roll the bottom edge up over the filling to the clean edge to create a long log.
7. On a parchment lined baking sheet, shape the log into a circle. Open one end so that the other end can stick inside to complete the circle.
8. Proof the ring for about 45 minutes until 1 1/2 to 2 times the size. Then bake at 350℉ for 50-60 minutes. If the cake is getting too dark, tent with foil while finishing the bake time.
9. While the cake bakes, prep the glaze by mixing water into the powdered sugar until it reaches a honey like consistency. Separate into thirds and dye each one or leave white and sprinkle with colored sugar at the end.
10. Once cake has baked and cooled, ice with glaze and serve.
Okay, let's talk about the history here because it is a long one....
The king cake dates back a few hundred years. It originates in France as a celebration to the three wise men (from the Bible) during epiphany. As someone who was not raised in a religion, I don't fully understand all the meaning but from what I've been told and read this is how it goes... Jesus is believed to have been be born on December 25th (Christmas), 12 days later is when he was revealed to the world when the three wise men showed up. This celebration is epiphany. This is also the start of carnival season all the way to the day before Lent starts Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. During this time there are a lot of celebrations around the world where Gâteau des Rois (King Cake) is enjoyed.
Now there are actually various forms of this cake. Many French chefs I watched recently make versions that are similar to the pitivier with an almond filling and puff pastry. But in New Orleans and the U.S. we make one closer to a sweet dough with a cinnamon filling. I've seen both cinnamon sugar like a cinnamon roll and some with cream cheese. I prefer the cream cheese kind because it adds a nice moistness to the cake. Either way you decide to make it, it will be delicious.
The cake also typically has a baby baked inside. Originally it was a coin or something more common a few centuries ago but now we use a baby to represent baby Jesus. The person who gets the baby is suppose to be crowned the king or queen of Mardi Gras and are expected to either host the next celebration or at least supply the cake. These can be bought at many baking shops or online. Make sure they are food grade and can be baked in the cake though!
As for the decorations, in New Orleans you'll see a lot of purple, gold, and green. Purple is for justice, gold for power, and green for faith. These colors can be found throughout the Mardi Gras celebrations so it's a nice touch on the cake too. I prefer to dye the icing and drizzle on the cake since it's a cleaner finish but you can also use sprinkles in the three colors.
At the end of the day King Cake can be enjoyed any time of year. It's simply another symbol of indulgence that you consume before giving things up for the 40 days of lent. But if you're like me you don't give up delicious things and you can make a King Cake whenever you want.