I’m not sure I even knew what Mardi Gras was until I moved to Texas, and I know I’d never heard of a king cake. But, now that I’ve lived in Austin (a town that will celebrate anything for an excuse to party) for nearly a decade, it is time I attempted to create a Mardi Gras king cake.
I love the story of the king cake, that the king cake represents the three kings who visited the young Jesus and brought him gifts. The colors of Mardi Gras represent justice, faith, and power. I also like the parts of history that suggest that at king cake parties, the revelers would save one piece for a poor person.
The king cake adventure started yesterday because a king cake, let me tell you, is not a last-minute operation. Should you want to create your own king cake, from scratch, here’s the plan I used:
1 day before — mix the brioche dough
I read that different cultures used different kinds of dough for their king cake. I decided to use the dough of the French, brioche. I’m a believer in the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes method of breadmaking, so I used their brioche recipe to whip up some brioche dough in about 5 minutes yesterday. I made a half batch (2 pounds), so here’s what I mixed up in a bowl:
- 3/4 cup lukewarm water
- 3/4 tablespoon yeast
- 3/4 tablespoon salt (I use Morton Coarse Kosher Salt)
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 1/2 sticks of unsalted sweet cream butter
- 3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Just mix it all in a bowl until all the flour is incorporated into a nice rich dough. It’s going to look lumpy and wet, but that’s ok! Let it rise on your counter for a couple hours, covered with a towel. Keep it covered with the towel and put it in the fridge to chill so that it’s easier to handle tomorrow when you make your king cake.
the morning of — make sprinkles and prepare filling ingredients
Traditional king cakes didn’t have the colored sprinkles on them. But, I wanted to use the colors of Mardi Gras, so I wanted to use a more southeastern USA glaze and sprinkle topping on this king cake of mine. However, the cheapest I found sugar sprinkles was $1.99 a pack, and I didn’t really want to pay $6 for the sugar sprinkles on this cake. I learned that making colored sugar is pretty easy, so I decided to give it a whirl since I had a little bit of sugar in my pantry and food coloring.
Put a little sugar in a bowl. Add a few drops of food coloring. Stir it up until the color is evenly distributed and give it an hour to dry out a bit. And you’re done. That’s it. The cheapest sugar sprinkles ever and no half bottles of sprinkles leftover to store. I made the purple and yellow sprinkles above. The green sprinkles were leftover from Christmas, and that’s why there are a few red sprinkles, too.
To get started on the filling, open a pack of cream cheese and drop it into a mixing bowl to soften. Do not use any light or fat-free stuff. It’s just gross. Use the full-fat real deal cream cheese. This is a king cake, after all.
a couple hours or more later — make the filling
Add 1 cup of powdered sugar and some flavoring to your cream cheese. I used Watkin’s pure lemon extract, but you could use vanilla or almond or whatever. Then use your mixer to make the filling very creamy. Set it aside while you prepare your bread dough.
In my research of king cakes, I learned that traditional king cakes were not usually filled. That trend started in the southeastern US–of course! Being from the southeastern US, I find the idea of a filling very appealing, so I researched some different ways to fill king cakes–cinnamon sugar, praline, cream cheese, so many options. The filling recipe I decided to use is from Christy Jordan’s website, Southern Plate, where she has a quick and easy King Cake recipe. The filling is 8 ounces of cream cheese (softened), 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar, and 1 tsp of lemon flavor.
a few minutes later — prepare the dough
Now, you take out a pound of your chilled brioche dough. If you used the recipe above, you should have about two pounds of brioche chilling in your fridge. Flour a surface. Generously use that flour. Mine stuck even with a good bit of flour, so don’t be shy. Roll the dough out to a good sized rectangle. Mine was about 9×16 or so. Spread the filling onto the dough, leaving a little perimeter with no filling, and roll it up long ways into a log. Use some water if you need to stick the last bit of dough together. Bring the log together to form a circle. Again, you can use some water to stick the ends of the log together. Now, the dough needs to rise. I went ahead and put some parchment paper on my baking stone and rubbed it with butter and put my ring on the butter. Then, I rubbed melted butter all over the dough before covering it with plastic wrap.
about an hour later — cook the cake
Remove plastic wrap. Preheat the oven to 350. Bake the cake for 25-35 minutes depending on your oven. You’ll want a nice golden crust that slightly cracks when touched. Remove cake when done. Allow to cool completely. I moved mine to wire racks (parchment and all) to promote faster cooling.
about an hour later — glaze and decorate the cake
Mix up a glaze. A friend brought me a bottle of real Mexican vanilla yesterday, so I was itching to use it. I mixed about a teaspoon of it, some confectioner’s sugar (a little over a cup), and some whole milk (1.5-2.5 tablespoons). I added the milk gradually until the glaze looked like glaze. Then, I drizzled the glaze over the cake while the cake was still on the parchment paper. Then, I immediately sprinkled on the colored sugars. I gave it a minute to let the glaze start to harden and then I removed the cake from the parchment and put it on a pretty plate.
finally — enjoy the cake
We waited patiently for Daddy to get home from work before slicing the cake and having an afternoon snack. Trust me, y’all, this goes great with black coffee!