King Cake: The official food of the Carnival season. Not to be eaten before Twelfth Night or after Mardi Gras, this sweet treat takes on many forms: bread-like, pastry-like, even donut-like! In this area of the country, you can find it everywhere--from bakeries to donut shops. Even Wal-mart! My favorite variety comes from Keller's Bakery in Youngsville, LA. It's soft, gently sweet, and almost like a breakfast danish. With flavor varieties such as strawberry cream cheese, blueberry cream cheese, and amaretto nut, there's something to please every palate. Yum!
After much questioning from my co-workers about when I'd ever make them a King Cake and the resulting disbelief when I admitted I'd never baked one, I decided that this year would finally be the year! I turned to my trusty ole' Internets for help. Many of the King Cake recipes I found online rely on a brioche dough as the base, but I decided to go with a cinnamon roll dough posted by Carrie of Fields of Cake. I've heard nothing but good things about her recipe, and I've been itching to try it out for some time now. The dough was rich, easy to work with, and just sweet enough. For the fillings, I used the ones that accompany the King Cake recipe by Andrea Meyers.
I much preferred the blueberry cream cheese one to the cinnamon one, as did my co-workers. The cinnamon filling contains a fair bit of flour, which kept the filling from oozing out in a liquid mess but ultimately baked up too firm. As I learned from my first King Cake attempt, you cannot use a standard cinnamon roll filling (butter, sugar, cinnamon), because it will inevitably end in a total smoking oven failure--no matter how sure you are that you've sealed off the seams! :(
Keep in mind that the cream cheese & fruit filling I have listed below is only enough for one cake (the dough makes 2), so if you want both to be the same flavor you'll need to double up on the recipe. This recipe does take some time to complete, but much of that is dough rising time (there are 3!)--so don't start this in the evening unless you plan on staying up late! Plan on about 6-8 hours, start to finish, depending on your kitchen temperature and yeast activity.
King Cake (makes 2 large cakes)
3½ oz. pkg. instant French vanilla pudding mix
2 cups cold whole milk
½ cup melted unsalted butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1½ tsp. salt
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. cardamom
6 cups flour
4½ tsp. instant yeast
CREAM CHEESE FILLING (enough for 1 cake)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbl. flour
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup fruit filling (I used blueberry preserves)
CINNAMON FILLING (enough for 2 cakes. I used the entire amount for 1 cake, and it was too much--see picture above)
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup flour
2 Tbl. cinnamon
½ cup butter, melted
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbl. milk
Green, purple, and yellow/gold colored sugars
You'll also need 2 plastic baby figurines
In a large bowl prepare pudding mix with milk according to package directions. Add butter, eggs, salt, sugar and cardamom; mix to blend well. Gradually add flour and yeast; transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 8 minutes.
Place dough in a large greased bowl; cover and let rise until doubled.
Punch dough down and allow to double a second time. Meanwhile, prepare fillings.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two large rimmed cookie sheets with parchment or foil.
Divide dough into two pieces. Roll dough out one piece at a time to a long rectangle, about 8" x 30". Spread with filling, leaving a 1" border on three sides and a 2" border on one of the long sides. Starting with the side opposite the 2" border, roll up tightly. Pinch seam to seal. Carefully transfer roll to one of the prepared sheet pans, seam side down. Form into an oval, tucking one end of the roll into the other and pinching shut. Cover lightly and allow to rise slightly (about 30 minutes).
Repeat with remaining half of dough. Bake cakes in a 350°F oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and baked through. Some leakage may occur. Cool completely.
Spread cakes with glaze and sprinkle with colored sugars. Hide a plastic baby figurine under each cake. When ready to serve, remind your guests that one of the pieces will have a baby in it (choking and/or the breaking of teeth is bad!). The lucky person who gets the baby is responsible for bringing the next King Cake!