Mardi Gras isn’t complete without the sweet and colorful King Cakes appearing on tables in New Orleans throughout the Carnival season. Layered with pecans, cinnamon, and dark brown sugar, the cakes are decorated in green, gold, and purple. The cake is finished with a tiny plastic baby hidden inside to symbolizes luck and prosperity to whoever finds it in his or her slice.
For the Cake
1 cup warm milk, between 100-100˚F
2 tablespoons dry yeast
½ cup sugar
3 ¾ cups flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 sticks butter, melted
5 egg yolks
Butter & Brown Sugar Spread
1 cup brown sugar
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¾ cup roasted pecans, chopped
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons dried egg white powder
2 tablespoons fresh juice
Purple, green and gold decorative sugars
1 plastic baby to insert after baking
In a large mixing bowl combine the warm milk, with the dry yeast, sugar and ¼ cup of the flour. Mix with whisk until both the sugar and the yeast dissolves. When the mixture begins to froth or foam, add the remaining cake ingredients. After the dough comes together as a large ball, turn the dough out and knead dough on a clean but floured surface for 15 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap move to a warm place in the kitchen for 90 minutes or until the dough has doubled in volume.
While the dough rises, using a wooden spoon, combine all the ingredients for the butter and brown sugar spread.
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. When the dough has risen, punch it down and weight it. Divide the dough into three equal pieces by weight. Roll into three 18” long ropes of dough. Roll out each long rope of dough into a long rectangle about 4 to 5” x 18”. Spread 1/3 of the butter and brown sugar spread over the dough and roll tightly back up to a rope shape. Braid the three pieces around each other and then form into a circle.
Place the braided circle of pastry onto a parchment lined baking sheet, cover lightly with a piece plastic wrap and allow it to rise for another half hour or so or until it doubles in size. Once doubled place into the oven and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove the cake and place onto a wire rack to cool for another 1 to 1½ hours.
When the cake is cooled mix the powdered sugar, powdered egg white, and lemon juice together with a small wire whisk so that the icing is smooth and thick. If too thick add water a teaspoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency. if it’s too loose, add a little more powdered sugar.
Drizzle the icing over the top of the cake, then immediately sprinkle with purple, green, and gold decorative sugars while the icing is still wet. Insert a plastic baby into underside of the cake and transfer to a platter and serve.
Makes 10-12 servings.