King Cake

Today, it snowed in Louisiana!

For the uninitiated, this means

  • School is cancelled because we know we don’t have the equipment or skills to drive safely
  • Kids everywhere dress in repurposed camo hunting clothes (the only cold weather waterproof things my kids own)
  • We slide down levees (because they are easily the biggest hills in town)
  • Some use crawfish trays and garbage can lids… but my kids have always had a sled because my father-in-law used to travel to Wisconsin for work, so my husband always grew up with a real sled, and yes, it’s worth the storage space for the once in every five years we use it
  • I make king cake, because it’s also Carnival season… and “they can’t cancel King Cake!”

This recipe is a re-post from my original food blog back on blogspot years ago. The original came from Celebrations on the Bayou, but I’ve made quite a few tweaks over the years!

For the dough:

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick melted (but not too hot) butter, plus 2 Tablespoons softened, for the bowl
  • EITHER 2/3 cup evaporated milk and 2/3 cup water OR 1 1/3 cups milk, heated to about 100 degrees (should feel warm to the touch)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp salt* (or 1 1/2 tsp — see note)
  • 5 teaspoons yeast (2 envelopes)
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 cups all purpose flour

Combine the butter, milk (and water), sugar, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Let sit for 2-3 minutes, until frothy.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Add flour and beat until just combined. Turn out into a buttered bowl.  Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours in a warm place. Meanwhile, make the filling (see below). The dough will be very sticky and won’t rise as much as bread dough.

After it has risen, generously flour your counter. Dump the dough onto the counter and roll it into a long, thin rectangle. Divide the dough into three long strips.

For the filling:

  • 1 block cream cheese, very soft (I microwave these on half power)
  • 1/2 stick butter, very soft but not liquid
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar (dark or light)
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 350. Combine the butter and cream cheese.  Spread (or dollop) the mixture down the center of each strip. Sprinkle sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon down the center of each strip on top of the cream cheese and butter mixture. Fold lengthwise, pinching the edges together to seal so that the cinnamon filling is in the middle of each strip.

Lifting each section over the others, carefully braid the sections of bread. It works best if you start in the middle and then braid outwards from each side (method #2 in this video).

Gently lift the middle section of the braid and place it on a flat baking pan or a stone lined with parchment paper** Shape it into a circle and tuck in the ends.

Let it rise, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes.  Again, it won’t quite double.  Bake in a 350 oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Meanwhile, prepare the icing. (Note that the one pictured above was slightly overbaked because I got distracted playing in the snow!)

For the icing:

  • 4 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 – 2 Tablespoons milk (as needed, for consistency — you want it to be easily spreadable, but not quite pourable)
  • Colored sugar — purple, green, and gold***

Allow the cake to cool only slightly. Move it to your serving platter before icing, if desired. Spread the glaze over the cake while it is still slightly warm, then sprinkle it with the colored sugars.  The icing sets up fairly quickly, and when it does this, the colored sugar doesn’t stick as well, so I usually do one section at a time.  Sprinkle with alternating colors – purple, green, and gold. I do two of each color for a total of six. Kids love helping with this part.

And don’t forget to tuck a baby inside! You can buy them online or save ones that you find in a king cake.  Elementary school teachers are a great source 😉 The finder gets to make (or buy, for the faint at heart) the next king cake.

Enjoy with your snowy kids (knowing full well they may be back to shorts and sandals next week)!

Notes:

* I use Diamond Kosher salt, which is made differently and is less salty than traditional table salt or other Kosher salt. If you are using regular salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons is better.

**Parchment paper is not necessary if you are going to serve the cake on the pan you bake it on… however, it does help with cleanup and is essential if you are putting the cake on a different serving platter.

*** I buy my colored sugar at Michael’s or the baking section of Walmart, or I order from King Arthur online. You can also use food coloring and a plastic bag to dye sugar. I like coarse sugar best for this, but any kind will work. An alternative is to separate the icing into three bowls and use food coloring to dye it.

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