When Mardi Gras season rolls around, the most infamous bakeries in the city of New Orleans turn out these yeasty, cinnamon King Cake delights by the hundreds. A king cake is a traditional offering that dates back to medieval times and represents the three kings of Orient, who bestowed gifts upon the baby Jesus on the Twelfth Night (this is the day the Mardi Gras season technically begins). The sugar sprinkles are purple, green, and gold to symbolize justice, faith, and power, respectively. Traditionally there is a bean, or little plastic baby baked in, to symbolize the infant Jesus and fertility. To read more on the history of the Mardi Gras King Cake, click here.
- 1 cup milk (whole or reduced fat)
- 2 packages active dry yeast, ¼ oz each
- ¼ cup butter, unsalted, room temperature
- ¼ cup shortening, room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 ea eggs, large, at room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp lemon zest
- ¼ tsp orange zest
- ½ tsp nutmeg (fresh grated or ground)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- Vegetable oil for greasing bowl
- 1 dried bean, half a pecan, or a little plastic baby (craft stores sell them)
- 4 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
- 1 Tbs cinnamon
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 3 Tbs milk
- ½ tsp vanilla
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- As needed food coloring (yellow, green, & red + blue = purple)
- In a small saucepan over low heat, warm milk to 105°F – 115°F. Remove from heat and sprinkle yeast over milk with one tablespoon of sugar. Let sit about 10 minutes until yeast froths. If it doesn’t, start over, the yeast is bad.
- With a hand or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream shortening, butter, salt and granulated sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, then vanilla and citrus zest.
- Add two cups of flour with the mixer on low speed, then beat in the rest with a wooden spoon (or switch to dough hook). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth, silky and elastic, about ten minutes. Shape dough into a large round. Let dough proof in an oiled bowl, covered with a towel until it doubles in volume.
- Lightly press excess air out of the dough. Roll dough into a large rectangle, 10 x 20 inches, using flour sparingly. Cut into three sections lengthwise. Brush each with melted butter, and sprinkle generously with filling mixture. Roll each section up long side to long side.
- Pinch the ends of each roll, then pinch all three together at one end. Braid, pinch off braid and roll gently to lengthen. Shape into an oval. Place on a baking sheet lined with greased parchment paper. Use makeshift heat-proof weights to help the dough keep shape (beans in ramekins work great). Let rest covered until doubled in size, about an hour. Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Bake for 16-20 minutes, until the cake sounds hollow when tapped. Remove weights immediately and insert baby or the like into bottom of cake (don’t let anyone see). Cool on pan on a rack.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk powdered sugar with milk until it reaches a thick but pourable consistency (you may have to add more milk or sugar). Stir in vanilla.
- In small bowls or plastic baggies, separate sugar into thirds, and tint by rubbing food coloring into granules with spoon or fingers (likewise, buy colored sprinkles). Drizzle frosting over cake, and decorate with tinted sugar.
The first step is to cut the large dough rectangle into three thinner rectangles, and roll them up lengthwise with the cinnamon mixture inside. You should arrive at three rolls similar at something that looks like this:
Then simply pinch the three together at one end and braid (yes, like locks). Then shape the dough braid into an oval, slightly overlapping where the two ends pinch together. Proof again with weights in the middle to let the dough recover and rise, bake and frost!
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