11 February 2013

Well, the move is complete, but things are crazy around here! We just got our second POD unloaded yesterday, so we are living in a sea of boxes.  I'm still too busy to get back into the swing of blogging regularly, but I did want to share this recipe with you before the time to do so got away from me.

We had a fairly new tradition at our church in Michigan.  Each year on Epiphany, someone makes a traditional King Cake, and hides a plastic Baby Jesus or a pecan half inside.  The cake is cut and everyone takes a piece.  Whoever gets the piece that has the Baby Jesus in it has to make the cake next year.  This is a really fun tradition.  King Cakes are traditionally eaten on Epiphany (January 6, signaling the end of the Christmas season), and also on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins.  Last year, my husband got the piece of cake with the Baby Jesus in it, so it was his responsibility to make the cake this year.  Since I have never, in our 11+ years together seen him bake anything (cook, yes. Bake, no), I volunteered to make the cake on his behalf.  I was a little intimidated, since I have limited experience with yeast doughs.  I considered making an "easy" version that used frozen Rhodes rolls instead, but my sweet friend, Gloria, who I think started this tradition at our church, insisted that I try her recipe.  Hers is amazing and I didn't think I could do it justice, but she was adamant that I try it.  

King Cakes aren't what you would think of as a regular cake.  It's more like a sweet bread with a yummy cream cheese filling inside.  I made Gloria's recipe and it actually turned out pretty well.  I didn't have any trouble with the dough; it is a really easy dough to work with.  Here is the recipe; the only thing I changed was to cut the glaze recipe in half because it made way too much for my cake.

King Cake for Epiphany or Mardi Gras

5 tsp active dry yeast
½ cup sugar
1½ sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup warm milk (about 110°F)
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
4½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vegetable oil 
1 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
2½ cups powdered sugar, divided
1 plastic Baby Jesus or a pecan half
3½ tbsp milk, divided
1½ tbsp fresh lemon juice
Purple, green, and gold sugar sprinkles

Combine the yeast, sugar, butter, and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.  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 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 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 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 powdered sugar. Blend by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed. Set aside.  Get out a 15” pizza stone.  If you don’t have one, line your largest 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” long and 6” wide.  Spread the filling lengthwise over the bottom half of the dough, then place the Baby Jesus or pecan half somewhere in it.  Flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together.  Shape the dough into a log and place it on the pizza stone or baking sheet seam-side down. Shape the dough into a circle and pinch the ends together. Cover the ring with plastic wrap and set in a warm place. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°.

Brush the top of the risen cake with 2 tbsp milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

For the icing, combine the remaining 1½ tbsp milk, lemon juice, and remaining 1½ cups powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.  Spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with the sugar sprinkles, alternating colors around the cake.  The cake is traditionally cut into 2” thick slices.  Whoever finds the Baby Jesus in their piece has to make the cake next year!

Makes 20-22 servings.                                      

Here is a pic of the cake before rising and baking.

Now, I know that it looks like a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps, but it really is pretty simple.  Like I said, the dough is super easy to work with and quite forgiving.  I did have some of the filling spill out of one place, but overall I think it wasn't too bad for my first time making it.  My picture isn't the greatest, and I forgot to take one of an individual piece to show you the inside (sorry!), so I will have to make another one next year and hopefully start this tradition up at our new church here in Wisconsin!

It can be difficult to obtain a tiny plastic Baby Jesus and the right-colored sprinkles.  In our small town in Michigan, we had a little New Orleans-themed restaurant (shout-out to The Big Easy!), and they make individual King Cakes around Epiphany and Mardi Gras.  We simply kept the Baby Jesuses (Lena calls them "Baby Jesi") for future use.  The Big Easy also graciously gave me three small containers of the colored sugar that they use.  I offered to pay her for them, but she wouldn't hear of it.  Thanks Sandy!  So if you have anyplace like that near you, that could be a good resource for those things.

I give Gloria all the credit for the success of this cake.  She really has a winner in this recipe!  Thanks so much, Gloria!

Happy Mardi Gras, everyone!

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