My bad! I should have made this last week, in case anyone wanted to try it, but I honestly thought Fat Tuesday was next Tuesday. Oops! You would think, having lived in New Orleans for 13 years, I would pay more attention to these things. My absolute favorite King Cake was always from Randazzo's, but I can't get my paws on their recipe, so I figured it was time I gave it a stab myself. :)
If you're not familiar with King Cake, it is most commonly served as part of the Mardi Gras tradition. It's sort of a brioche/coffee cake/danish kind of thing, with various fillings. The most common is a cinnamon/sugar/pecan mixture. Also included in the cake is either a bean or a plastic baby. According to some, the baby represents the baby Jesus in this pre-Lent treat. Either way, whoever gets the bean or baby in their slice is said by some to have good luck coming, and by all to be the "King" or "Queen" of the day, and it becomes their responsibility to host the next party - or at least to provide the next King Cake. It got to be crazy when I was working in a big office. There were King Cakes everywhere!!
As for the funky color combination, the colors are always purple, green, and gold. The purple stands for justice, the green for faith, and the gold for power.
There is also a French style King Cake, sans icing and sugar. It may look plain, but it is layers of flaky puff pastry with an almond filling. My favorite French King Cake was by Maurice French Pastries Bakery in Metairie.
I just learned today that there is yet another kind of King Cake, the Zulu. Zulu is one of the Mardi Gras Krewes. They always parade on the morning of Fat Tuesday. Sadly, in the years when I had company in town and was in full-blown Mardi Gras mode, I was usually too hung over by then and never got up early enough to see a Zulu parade. All of the Krewes throw trinkets - beads, cups, doubloons, etc., but Zulu was most famous for their coconuts! Thus the Zulu King Cake boasting chocolate icing and a coconut filling. I l-o-v-e coconut! How did I miss out on that one?!?! :(
By the way, if you have never been to Mardi Gras, it's a MUST, at least once. If you're have kids and are otherwise concerned about all the drunken lunatics and flashers, there are plenty of towns just outside the City that run parades as well. If you're still not convinced but will be in New Orleans in the off-season, plan to check out Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World. It's a warehouse where they work on the floats, so you get to see a film about Mardi Gras, try on costumes, see some of the floats, watch them build some of the big characters that decorate the floats, etc. I've been a dozen times or so, and it's always different. Plus you get a slice of King Cake while you're there. :)
OK, on to my creation ...
I looked at four different recipes online, cherry picked what I wanted to use from each, played around with ratios, then decided to incorporate some of my homemade yogurt. I also knew we had an open box of cake flour, so I opted to incorporate some of that as well, to play with the texture. I really had no idea what I was doing, but what the heck - you've gotta learn somehow.
* 3 T yeast
1 c warm milk
1/2 c sugar
1 stick butter, melted and cooled
3 large egg yolks
** 1 c plain yogurt
2 t vanilla
*** 1 t lemon extract
1/2 t orange extract
zest from one lemon
2 t salt
1/2 t nutmeg
5-6 1/2 c flour (I used 2c cake flour 3 1/2 c AP)
small can apricot pie filling
1/2 can almond paste
purple, green, and gold sugar
plastic baby (I didn't bother, shhhh!)
With the bread hook attachment in place, whisk the yeast and sugar together in the bowl of your stand mixer, then pour in the warm milk and let it sit for about 5" until the yeast starts to bloom. You will see it start to bubble.
While you're waiting, you can melt your butter. I threw it right in the microwave in a measuring cup, and once it had cooled a little, stirred in the extracts and yolks. When the yeast is ready, pour in the butter mixture, yogurt, and zest, and mix to combine.
Next, I added the 2 cups of cake flour with the salt and nutmeg. Once that was blended in, I started adding my AP flour, one cup at a time, until it formed a nice dough, pulling away from the bowl into a ball.
Grease a bowl, and add the dough, turning once to coat - I used PAM. Cover it with a sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap and a dish towel, and tuck it away someplace warm to double in size - about an hour and a half. I usually turn the oven on for 20 seconds or so, then shut it off and store my dough in there with the light on. Just make sure if you're using a plastic bowl that you put a pot holder in the oven first so the bowl doesn't melt.
While you're waiting, you can go ahead and prepare your filling - and your colored sugar if you don't already have those colors.
My first instinct was to do some sort of cream cheese filling, but when I looked in the fridge, I realized we had no cream cheese. That never happens in this house! Hmmmm. I was planning to do two ropes and wind them together, so I wanted two different fillings. One was going to be the traditional cinnamon sugar (I ended up mixing a little white and a little brown sugar in with the cinnamon), but what about the other? I looked in the pantry and found some pie fillings - apple, cherry, and apricot. I'm not really a canned pie person, but the apricot caught my attention. That reminded me that we had an open can of almond paste in the fridge, so I decided the second rope would be the apricot filling and almond paste whipped together. Yummmm!
For the sugars, I had green in with all the Christmas decorations, but no purple or gold. To make those, I poured a little white sugar into two zip-top sandwich bags, then added a little gel food coloring, squeezed out as much air as I could, zipped the bags shut and just sort of smushed it around until the color was evenly distributed.
When your dough is ready, go ahead and sprinkle your work surface with flour, then punch the dough down, knead it once or twice, and divide it in half. (This made a really big cake, so next time, I may divide it in four and make two smaller cakes.) Pat one portion of dough into a long rectangle, about 6" x 30", and spread with one of your fillings. Most recipes call for rolling the dough jellyroll style, but I saw one that said to fold both sides into the middle, pinch it closed and then roll it into a rope. For whatever reason, I decided to try it that way. Totally up to you.
Yikes, that thing is huge!
Roll that rope out of your way so you can fill the other portion ...
Then twist the two ropes together and transfer to a parchment-lined tray, forming it into a ring and pinching the ends together to seal. (I seem to be terrible at that for some reason - first my Ham and Swiss Ring, now this.)
Set it back in it's "happy place" for another 45" for a second rise.
While you are pre-heating your oven to 350, brush the top of your ring with milk for a nice shine. Oops, wardrobe malfunction! When I was brushing mine with milk, I saw a spot of apricot. Looks like my ring pulled a Hulk and grew right out of its clothes! I was afraid it was going to ooze all over the place when it was baking, so I tried to pinch it closed, but that just made it worse, so I left well enough alone. Didn't end up to be a problem at all. Phew!
The recipes I looked at called for baking the cake for 30-35", but because mine was so big, and I had included the yogurt, which means more moisture, I figured it would need more time, so I let it go to about 45". Because the top was already nicely golden about 30" in, I put a piece of parchment over it to keep it from burning.
Transfer the tray to a cooling rack and let the cake cool completely before icing so your glaze doesn't slide right off!
Hmm, it actually looks kinda square now.
For the icing, I wasn't looking for copious amounts of "sweet," but I did want enough for the colored sugar to have something to stick to, but that's all a matter of personal taste. I used about 2c of confectioner's sugar, added a few drops of almond extract and then drizzled in milk and stirred until it got to a pourable consistency. I just used a big spoon and spooned it over the top. The icing will set fairly quickly, so have your sugars at the ready for sprinkling.
I was going to move it off the tray so I could take a nice picture of it, but the thing was such a beast, I couldn't lift it without breaking it! Just pretend there is no parchment, tray, or extra sugar around it. You've got a good imagination, right? :)
When I first cut into it, I was kinda disappointed thinking I had been chintzy with the filling. It didn't seem that way when I was making it. When I actually ate it, I realized I was spot on! You always hear chefs talk about layering flavors. I honestly don't notice that much, unless a recipe involves heat or alcohol. You'll always notice heat at the front of a bite of food, or building at the end and that sort of thing, but other than that, I don't generally pick up on anything more subtle. This, however, made me think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. What was that gum Violet took that tasted like a whole dinner? Every chew of this cake brought a different flavor. I loved it! First you would get the hint of almond from the icing, then that crunch from the sugar. In the next chew, you might hit on the cinnamon sugar, then the apricot/almond mixture. Even in spots where there was no filling, you got a little burst of flavor from the lemon zest and extracts, and on it went.
Can you see the little flecks of lemon zest??
* Rather than buying the yeast that comes in little packets, we have started buying the Saf-Instant that comes packaged in a pouch, kinda like coffee. That's why when I speak of yeast, it's by the tablespoon rather than packet. We just transfer it to a container and store it in the fridge.
** Because I used homemade yogurt, which is thicker than most supermarket brands, you might want to either use a Greek yogurt or drain your yogurt in a lined strainer.
*** You could use fresh lemon juice, but I've been housebound because of the snow and was down to one kinda squishy lemon I didn't trust. The outside looked OK, so I used the zest, but that's why I used extract rather than lemon juice.
HAPPY MARDI GRAS Y'ALL!! ;)