King Cake (sometimes rendered as Kingcake,
Kings' Cake, King's Cake, or Three Kings Cake)
is a type of cake associated with the festival of Epiphany in the Christmas
season in a number of countries, and in other places with Mardi Gras
and Carnival. It is popular in Christmas season in France, Belgium and
Switzerland (galette or gâteau des Rois), Portugal (bolo rei),
Spain and Spanish America (roscón or rosca de reyes and tortell
in Catalonia), Greece and Cyprus (vasilopita) and Bulgaria (banitsa).
In the United States, which celebrates Carnival in the Southeastern
region, it is associated instead with Mardi Gras traditions.
In the southern United States, the tradition was brought
to the area by colonists from France and Spain and it is associated
with Carnival, which is celebrated in the region centered on New Orleans
ranging from Pensacola, Florida, to East Texas. King Cake parties in
New Orleans are documented back to the eighteenth century.
The King Cake of the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition
comes in a number of styles. The most simple, said to be the most traditional,
is a ring of twisted bread similar to that used in brioche topped with
icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green, and gold (the traditional
Carnival colors) with food coloring. Cajun King Cakes are traditionally
deep-fat-fried as a doughnut would be, and there are many variants,
some with a filling, the most common being cream cheese and praline.
It has become customary in the New Orleans culture that
whoever finds the trinket must provide the next king cake or host the
next Mardi Gras party.
NOTE! You may NOT prepare and serve this before Twelfth
Night (Jan. 6) or after Mardi Gras Day!
Here's an excellent King Cake recipe, provided courtesy
of Chef Emeril Lagasse.
- 2 envelopes active dry yeast
- 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
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
- 4 cups confectioner's sugar
- 1 plastic king cake baby or a pecan half
- 5 tablespoons milk, at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Purple-, green-, and gold-tinted sugar sprinkles
Combine the yeast and granulated sugar in the bowl of
a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the melted butter and warm
milk. Beat at low speed for 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the
egg yolks, then beat for 1 minute at medium-low speed. Add the flour,
salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest and beat until everything is incorporated.
Increase the speed to high and beat until the dough pulls away from
the sides of the bowl, forms a ball, and starts to climb up the dough
hook. (If the dough is uncooperative in coming together, add a bit of
warm water (110 degrees), a tablespoon at a time, until it does.)
Remove the dough from the bowl. Using your hands, form
the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl with the vegetable
oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover
with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled
in size, about 2 hours.
Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large mixing bowl,
combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of the confectioner's sugar. Blend
by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed. Set aside.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.
Using your fingers, pat it out into a rectangle about 30 inches long
and 6 inches wide.
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. Shape the dough into a cylinder
and place it on the prepared baking sheet seam side down. Shape the
dough into a ring and 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 2 tablespoons of
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 remaining 3 tablespoons
milk, the lemon juice, and the remaining 3 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 is traditionally cut into 2-inch-thick slices
with all the guests in attendance.
YIELD: 20 to 22 servings