I am not too familiar with the tradition of the King Cake, or of Mardi Gras in general. All I know is that each cake holds little plastic babies...this is supposed to be symbolic of Jesus, I think. Therefore, when the restaurant asked me to make a couple King Cakes for this weekend, I had to turn to to the internet for information.
It may be offensive to thousands of New Orleanders, but I find King Cakes to look pretty....gross. The sloppily frosted cakes are often garnished with sugar in the garish colors of green, purple and yellow. Nasty.
I combed the internet to find a good-looking King Cake. I have concluded that they do not exist.
I did find many "short-cut" versions of this cake, involving wrapping crescent rolls around pecan or cream cheese fillings or braiding breadsticks and smothering them in cream cheese frosting (thanks, Sandra Lee). I couldn't bring myself to cheat in this way, so I made this recipe from Southern Living, complete with multiple risings, colored frosting and sugar. I'm not even sure if this is the "Traditional" cake; it is essentially a big tubular cinnamon roll. And really, for me, a big experiment.
As appalling as it looks, I'm pretty sure it can't be too bad if it's just a cinnamon roll with colored frosting.
This recipe make two cakes.
1/2 stick of butter
16 oz sour cream (I found I only had 3/4 of a container of sour cream, so I substituted cream cheese for the remaining 4 oz)
1/3 cup sugar
1 t salt
2 (.25 oz each) packets dry active yeast (I actually screwed up and only used .25 oz total, but my King Cake rose just fine.)
1 T white sugar
1/2 cup warm water
6.5 cups AP flour, divided
1/2 cup white sugar
1.5 t cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened
Colored frostings and Colored sugar (recipes follow)
1. Cook the first four ingredients in a saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until the butter melts. Cool to 100 or 110 degrees.
2. Dissolve yeast and 1 T sugar in 1/2 cup warm water in a large bowl. Add butter mixture, eggs and 2 cups flour and beat with a mixer 2 minutes or until smooth. Gradually stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.
3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place the dough in an oiled/buttered bowl and turn to cover in oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.
NOTE: In winter, depending on the temperature of your kitchen, it can be difficult to get your dough to rise. I always let mine rise in the oven (either the warmth from the pilot light will help it rise, or you can turn on the oven briefly and turn it off).
4. Stir together the 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon; set aside.
5. Punch down the dough; divide in half. Turn out on portion onto a lightly floured surface, and roll into a 28"x10" rectangle. Spread 1/2 the cinnamon mixture and half the 1/3 cup softened butter on the rectangle.
Roll, like a jelly roll, starting at the long side. Place roll, seam side down on a greased baking sheet.
Bring ends together to form a ring, moistening edges and pinching together to seal. Repeat with remaining dough.
6. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts 20-30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
7. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes until golden. Let cool and decorate with bands of colored frosting and sugars.
8. Colored Frosting:
3 cups powdered sugar
3 T butter, melted
3 T milk
1/4 t vanilla extract
2 drops green food coloring
2 drops yellow food coloring
2 drops red food coloring
2 drops blue food coloring
Stir together powdered sugar, melted butter and vanilla extract. Add enough milk to achieve a drizzling consistency. Divide frosting into 3 bowls and mix in the food coloring to make green, yellow and purple (yarf.)
9. Colored Sugars:
1.5 cups white sugar
3 ziplock bags
red and blue, green and yellow food coloring
Place half cup sugar in each ziplock, add the food coloring, seal, and shake vigorously. It's best to mix the red and blue to make purple before adding the sugar.
10. Now decorate your cake...in whatever way you please.
Happy Superbowl Sunday! Happy Mardi Gras!