Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Throw Me Something, Mister!

One could argue that Bananas Foster is New Orleans' most famous dessert, but the King Cake certainly gives it a run for its money. King Cake symbolizes the spirit of the city and is synonymous with the city's most notorious celebration - Mardi Gras.

The "king cake" takes its name from the Biblical three kings (the three wise men). Catholic tradition states that their journey to Bethlehem took twelve days , and that they arrived to honor the the baby Jesus on Epiphany. The oval/round shape of the cake represents the path of the kings' journey to find the Christ child. They traveled in a circular route in order to confuse the King Herod, whose army was attempting to follow the Wise Men so that the Christ Child could be killed. The colors of the king cake (traditional Mardi Gras colors) represent justice (purple), faith (green) and power (gold), and the hidden baby figurine in the cake represents the baby Jesus. The season for king cake extends from the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas (January 6), through to Mardi Gras day.

In New Orleans, starting in early January you will see King Cakes popping up at every celebration. If you are one of the lucky ones with a birthday during the Mardi Gras season, you can be sure that your birthday cake will be one of these regional treats. All around the city; in offices, schools, and people's homes King Cake parties are typically thrown on Fridays. Whoever gets the piece of King Cake with the plastic baby embedded in it has to bring the cake for next week's gathering. It is great fun. During my schooling years I can remember hoping every single Friday of the Mardi Gras season that I would get that special piece with the coveted baby. It should come to no surprise to those that know me that I never in my whole entire New Orleans life got the baby - my luck is not so hot!

King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling
Modified from Coveiter


For the Cake
  • 1/2 cup of butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 envelopes active dry yeast
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest
Cream-Cheese Filling:
  • 1 8-ounce pkg. cream cheese
  • 1 c. confectioner's sugar
  • 2 T. flour
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • a few drops of milk

White Icing:
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
Colored Sugar

1. Melt the butter in the microwave in a medium mixing bowl Add the evaporated milk, 3/4 cup of the sugar, tablespoon of ground cinnamon and the salt.

Stir so that the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool.
2. Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water and stir in the remaining teaspoon sugar. Allow to stand for 10 minutes, until foamy. If the yeast does not foam up it is not live so you’ll have to start over with new yeast and sugar.
3. Add the yeast mixture to the butter and milk mixture.

Add the eggs and lemon zest

and whisk together vigorously, until well blended.
4. Whisk in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until you have a thick paste–about 3 cups flour.

Then switch to a wooden spoon and continue adding flour and mixing well. (I used my Kitchen Aid bread attachment)

When you have added all the flour, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured wooden board and knead it with your hands, which you have dusted with flour,

until the dough is smooth and elastic, about a dozen turns.

5. Place the dough into a large clean bowl that you have sprayed with vegetable oil cooking spray. Turn the dough to coat all sides with spray. Cover the bowl with a thick dish towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. (It is hard to find a warm place in your house in the dead of winter in DC - so my dough didn't really double in size)

6. Make the cream cheese filling: Combine cream cheese, flour, sugar, vanilla and milk in a bowl and blend.

7. Punch the dough down

and divide the dough in two. Roll out each half into a 10 by 15 inch rectangle.

Brush each rectangle with half of the melted butter

and then spread half of the cream cheese filling on each rectangle leaving about a 1/2 inch border all the way around.

Roll up along the long end like a jelly roll.

Press the roll together at the seam, sealing with water if necessary. Wind the two rolls together, forming one thick piece.

On a baking sheet sprayed with vegetable oil cooking spray, form the dough into a circle and seal the ends together.

8. Cover with a thick dish towel and allow the cake to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until it almost doubles in size.

9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk the egg white with 1 tablespoon water. Brush the top of the cake with the egg white. Bake the cake for 35 minutes, until it is browned and sounds hollow when tapped.

10. Make the white icing: Combine the sugar and milk in a small dish and whisk until smooth.

11. Allow the cake to cool slightly then drizzle with icing (if you let it cool completely the icing dries quicker and it is harder to keep sugar sprinkles from falling off)

Sprinkle the colored sugar in striped patterns over the icing.

12. Slice across the width of the cake into thin slices to serve. Makes about 12 nice sizes slices.

My homemade King Cake was insanely delicious. I have to be honest and tell you that it was very hard work and super time consuming. I don't intend to be popping this babies out in mass quantity any time soon. I worked all day in the kitchen preparing this treat with the assistance of my husband during mission critical steps. Although I don't plan to make a homemade King Cake for every Friday of this Mardi Gras season, it was completely worth it. Every bite of the fresh, fluffy, sugary treat made all the work worth it. And although King Cake isn't really king cake without a plastic baby, I couldn't find one in DC so we did without. At least I didn't have to go through the disappointment of not getting the baby once again.


Ally said...

Oh yum! I need to make one, I have to get in the spirit somehow even though I'm not in Nola.
Yours looks fabulously delicious!

aleta meadowlark said...

OH! I saw that recipe and wanted to make it! I'm waiting for an opportunity to feed it to someone else, though.

I'm glad to see that you liked it too, that is a valuable vote of confidence. =)

Alice said...

It's always so impressive to me that you generate your on pieces of New Orleans right in your kitchen. I guess I should be whipping out chitterlings and boiled peanuts... on second thoughts, I think I'll just stick to picking up fast food!
The king cake looks YUMMY!

Angie said...

That cake looks heavenly! Maybe I'll try it this weekend.

MaryBeth said...

I was really hoping to hear that it did have the traditional baby hidden inside. But none the less it looks great.

Tricia said...

As I was reading your post and looking at all of your pictures I was thinking to myself "there's no way in hell I'd ever spend that much time making something." Then I got to your final photo and it seriously looked so darn good it had me considering giving it a shot! Then it just reminded me that I think the yeast that I threw in the grocery cart earlier today must've gotten stuck and forgetten in the cart, because I don't remember unpacking it. Ahhh, such is life, but your kings cake looks seriously delish and I wish I had some! Nicely done!

Gabriela said...

Your King Cake looks fit for royalty! Believe it or not, this is hands down, my all time favorite, and your adaptation is gorgeous! I'm thrilled with your post and so glad to finally have the recipe.

Joelen said...

Fabulous post! Your cake looks wonderful!

Anonymous said...

The king cake looks great! I am really impressed. I have not attempted one myself (even though I bought all the ingredients last year.) I am too intimidated by the many steps in any king cake recipe I find.

Your sister,


Dragon said...

I've only tried this cake once and I can still remember how it tasted. It was delicious. Yours looks amazing!

phammy said...

So impressive!!! It looks divine. I miss those cakes!