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The Carnival Season in New Orleans commences on January 6, or Twelfth Night, and concludes at Midnight of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), which is February 24th this year. The first seasonal King Cake is baked for Twelfth Night parties and the first parade rolls on the St. Charles Streetcar lines in Uptown New Orleans. Originally an uncooked dry bean, but more recently a small plastic baby figure is inserted into the bottom of the baked cake. The lucky person who finds the “baby” in their slice of cake is crowned “king or queen” for the day. The traditional Carnival colors of purple, green and gold (yellow) are depicted in tinted sugar on the top of cake.
This traditional King Cake recipe goes back to before the 1980’s and is a classic. It will yield 1 average 12 to 14-inch ring of King Cake. In the restaurant I would make a much larger batch that would yield 6 King Cakes this size. The size will also increase a bit with the addition of a filling. This is typically a small sized King Cake, however, in the bakeries and stores you have a choice of small, medium or large cakes available. Extra large King Cakes have been known to be made on special orders, but for very large parties it is customary to order a number of them to fulfill the crowds.
King Cake Dough
|½||Cup||Warm water (110 degrees F.)|
|2||Pkg||Active dry yeast|
|½||Cup||Sugar (plus 2 tsp)|
|4½||Cups||All purpose flour, un-sifted|
|1||Tsp||Nutmeg, ground or fresh grated|
|½||Cup||Warm Milk (110 degrees F.)|
|1||Stick||Butter, (plus 2 Tbsp) softened|
|1||Each||Egg and 1 Tbsp milk beaten (egg wash)|
|¼||Tsp||Purple food color|
|¼||Tsp||Green food color|
|¼||Tsp||Yellow food color|
|1.||While the cake is cooling prepare the tinted sugars by taking three separate bowls with ½ cup of sugar in each. Then take the purple food color and slowly drop a dot or two at a time into the sugar. Using a spoon stir to mix and spread the color around until all sugar is tinted. Add more food color as needed. Repeat the process for the green and then the yellow in their own bowls as well. Set the tinted sugars aside.|
|3||Cups||Powdered confectioners sugar|
|¼||Cup||Fresh lemon juice, strained|
|3 to 6||Tbsp||Water|
|1.||Combine the sugar, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of water in a deep bowl whisking until smooth. If icing is too stiff whisk in 1 tablespoon water at a time until spreadable.|
|2.||Place cooled cake onto a serving platter or heavy cake cardboard and coat the top and sides of the cake with the icing. I like to dip my fingers into the icing and then drizzle it over the top of the cake. While the icing is still fresh immediately sprinkle the tinted sugars in individual rows about 2 to 3 inches wide of the purple, green and gold (yellow).|
If preparing in advance allow the icing and tinted sugars to set up a bit then cover with a plastic bag or plastic wrap. Typically a King Cake can last 2-3 days un-refrigerated.
Note On Fillings: If filling the cake you will want to have your filling prepared prior to the step where you are twisting the dough. In fact, for filled King Cake dough’s I will roll the dough out similar to cinnamon roll or danish dough style, instead of the cylinder shape as described above. Then I will sprinkle more cinnamon sugar and then add the filling. Then the dough will get rolled up around the filling jelly roll style. Then the filled dough is added to the baking sheet pan and looped into the circle and pinched before the second rising and baking stages. Typical fillings include sweetened and softened cream cheese, cherry pie filling, blueberry pie filling, lemon filling, custard filling, and my favorite is a double chocolate chocolate cake filling. Typically any pie or doughnut filling will work, you are only limited by your imagination.
Here is a typical cream cheese and fruit filling recipe:
|Cream Cheese and Fruit Filling|
|1||Can||Cherry, apple or apricot pie filling (16-ounces)|
|8||Ounces||Cream cheese, softened|
|1.||Using a floured roller on a floured surface, roll out the dough into a 30-by-9-inch rectangle as thin as pie crust. Let dough rest.|
|2.||If necessary, drain extra juice from pie filling. Mix the softened cream cheese with the sugar, flour, egg yolks and vanilla. Spoon an inch-wide strip of fruit filling the length of the dough, about 3 inches from the edge. Spoon the cream cheese mixture alongside the fruit, about 3 inches from the edge. Brush the exposed dough with egg wash.|
|3.||Fold or roll one edge of dough over the cream cheese and fruit in jelly roll fashion, and continue to roll the dough to the end, then brush with a little egg wash. Gently place one end of the filled rolled dough onto the buttered baking sheet pan, and then ease the rest of the roll onto the pan, joining the ends to form the loop or circle. Add more egg wash to “glue” the ends together. And then pick up from step 7 in the dough procedures above.|