Years ago my husband went on a business trip to New Orleans and ever since he has been dying to go back. He brought back loads of beads and stories of great music, atmosphere and of course the wonderful foods. One of which was the iconic King cake. With Fat Tuesday right around the corner New Orleans bakeries continue to furiously turn out these rich yeasty goodies and when an office party presented me with the opportunity to try to make one myself I took up the challenge!
Having never eaten King Cake before I had to lean heavily on the experiences of my coworkers who had, and luckily they also found a great recipe from Chef Emeril Lagasse for me to follow.
As always I made a few adjustments to the original which you can find here:
Mostly though I stayed true to the recipe and it turned out to be quite a success. I hope you are as willing to try this desert so rich in tradition and ingredients.
2 envelopes active dry yeast(4 1/2 tsp)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup warm milk (about 110°F)
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
4 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp honey
crushed pecans to taste (about 1 cup)
2 tbsp milk
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1 plastic king cake baby or a pecan half
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Purple-, green-, and gold-tinted sugar sprinkles
In a microwave safe bowl roughly cut the butter and melt in the microwave in 30 second increments until the butter is melted when it is about halfway done add the milk and continue until the butter is melted and the milk is warm but not hot. Add the yeast and some of the sugar and allow to proof. (This takes about 5-10 minutes). I mix all my yeast breads by hand, but you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook if you like. In a large mixing bowl combine the rest of the dry ingredients and the lemon zest. Make a well in the center and add the egg yolks. Add the yeast mixture and mix until all ingredients are well combined and the soft dough starts to pull away from the side of the bowl. I reserved the last 1/2 cup of flour to incorporate as I kneaded the dough just enough to make sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients. Place the dough in a covered, well oiled bowl in a warm place away from drafts, and allow to rise until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of the confectioner's sugar, honey, pecans, and vanilla. (I also added a pinch of ground cloves because I find it adds a compelling flavor to sweet baked goods). Blend by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed. Set aside.
Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
Halve the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your fingers, pat one half out into a rectangle. Spread the filling lengthwise over the bottom half of the dough, then flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together. Roll the second half into a long rope and gently braid the two together shaping it into a circle and placing it on the prepared baking sheet seam side down. (Be very careful when handling the filled half of the dough as the dough is not as elastic as many yeast breads and tears easily). Pinch the ends together so there isn't a seam. Insert the king cake baby or pecan half into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough.
Cover the ring with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Brush the top of the risen cake with the milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the icing. Combine the lemon juice, and the remaining 2 cups confectioner's sugar in medium-size mixing bowl. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with the sugar crystals, alternating colors around the cake.
The cake was a hit at our office party and I have requests for more in the future so I would say this was an experiment well worth the effort! A few things to consider though. Try to make sure your ring is large enough that the center will not fill in as it rises the second time. Mine was too tight and the very center of the cake was not as done as I would have liked and I felt the outer portion had begun to get a bit dry. This is something you could easily make a day ahead because I think it got better on the second day. Most of all just have fun, and remember to tell whoever gets the "baby" that the next cake is on them!