While the king cake is most famously known in America as a New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition, it actually has its roots in European Christmas and Epiphany traditions. The New Orelans version is basically a brioche bread topped with icing and colored sugars in the traditional Mardi Gras colors (purple, green and gold). A small plastic baby (or nut) is hidden inside the cake.
Traditionally, whoever finds the baby is crowned the king or queen of the Mardi Gras party. In modern times king cakes begin showing up at office parties, schools, and family gatherings immediately following Epiphany (a nod to the cakes historical origins as an Epiphany tradition, also Epiphany marks the beginning of the "Mardi Gras season" and parade season in New Orleans) and the person who gets the baby is usually required to bring the king cake the following week.
Do not let the length of this recipe dissuade you from making it. It really is quite easy, it just takes a bit of advance planning and time. Set aside an evening to make this since it involves a few long fermentations. The sponge can be made the night before and put in the refrigerator to slow it down until you are ready to use it. This works best with a Kitchen-Aid type mixer and dough hook, though you could kneed it by hand.
If you chose to do this manually be prepared to get very messy, the dough is quite wet at the start. Reserve a small portion of the flour to use on your surface as you don't want to add extra flour to the recipe. Kneeding times will need to be extended.
This is a modified version of Barry Harmon's Ponge de Romans recipe using traditional king cake flavorings and cut in half.
Prep time: 3 hours or overnight + 6 hours
Bake time: about 30 minutes
|Bread flour:||65g||2 1/4 ounces|
|Dry yeast:||8g||4 1/2 teaspoons|
Mix ingredients together until they form a loose, sticky dough. Cover and let rise 3 hours on the counter. Alternatively: Cover and let rise 30 minutes on the counter, then refrigerate overnight.
Make sure the container you use is at least twice the size of the mixture, it will expand a lot, especially if rising on the counter.
|Bread flour:||440g||15 1/2 ounces (by weight!)|
|Dark rum (or water):||28g||1 ounce|
|Butter (cubed, softened):||114g||4 ounces (1 stick)|
|Lemon zest:||1 teaspoon|
|Nutmeg (fresh grated):||1 teaspoon|
|Salt:||1 1/2 teaspoons|
Flatten dough out and roll up as in the first step of rolling the dough as described above. Gently stretch the dough out until it is about 3 feet long and 4 to 6 inches wide, make sure to keep the dough a uniform thickness along the length.
Spread filling along the length of the dough, about an inch wide. Leave at least an inch on one side of the filling and at least 2 inches on the other side. Place the baby in now.
Roll dough up, starting on the narrower side of the filling. Pinch together at the seam to seal it well, this will be the bottom of the loaf. Bring the ends together to form a ring, pinching them together to seal. Filled cakes should be baked on baking sheets to prevent a mess in the oven.
|1/2 cup dark brown sugar||1/4 cup all-purpose flour|
|1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ground cinnamon||1/4 cup butter, melted|
|1/3 cup chopped pecans|
Mix all ingredients together well.
|8 ounces cream cheese, softened||1/2 cup sugar|
|1 tablespoon lemon juice|
Mix sugar, lemon juice and cream cheese together well.
|4 ounces high quality dark chocolate||1 tablespoon butter|
|4 ounces heavy cream|
Chop chocolate into small slivers. Heat butter and cream in a double boiler and slowly whisk in chocolate. Whisk until smooth.
|1 tablespoon butter||1 cup confectiner's sugar|
|1 tablespoon lemon juice||1-3 tablespoons water|
Melt butter in a double boiler, add lemon juice. Remove from heat and stir in confectioner's sugar. Add water until you acheive a thick consistency that is still able to be drizzled.
|1/4 cup white sugar||6 drops each, blue and red food coloring|
|1/4 cup white sugar||12 drops green food coloring|
|1/4 cup white sugar||12 drops yellow food coloring|
Drizzle icing over cooled cake, covering entierly.
Mix colored sugars well and sprinkle on the cake in bands. I usually get three of each color on the cake with bands about 2-3 inches wide.
Optional: Decorate the cake with pecan halves or almond slices.
You really should use bread flour for this recipe. It absorbs a bit more water than AP flour does so the dough will be less messy to work with. Prior to the first rise it will seem very sticky, but it should come together during that first rise as the flour draws in more moisture.
Alternative shaping: Form the dough into a long tube shape and twist the tube before pinching the two ends together to form the ring. You could also form three equal tubes and braid them together before joining the ends into a ring.