The king cake reigns supreme during Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras starts on the 6th of January and runs through Fat Tuesday, March 1. In New Orleans, there are king’s parties everywhere everyday with most held during the two weeks up to Fat Tuesday before Ash Wednesday arrives and Lent begins. Talk about the party events of the year — parades, floats, trinket and bead throwing, parties, costume balls and, of course, the food at every party is over the top. It’s a king’s ransom of delightful Cajun and Creole dishes. Each food unbelievably delicious; I have to say, it’s “to die for.” Yes, you are bound to indulge in a few of these wonderful culinary dishes at the citywide Mardi Gras parties and balls: jambalaya, gumbo, po'boys, étouffée, red beans and rice, barbecue shrimp and the famous muffuletta, all washed down with more than one hurricane cocktail. But you definitely will see this one item stand out at every party, and that is the king cake. And at dawn New Orleans will have a block long line of revelers, most of whom have overindulged and partied until dawn, waiting for Café Du Monde to open its doors. They order the much-needed dark coffee with chicory and beignets, still hot from the fryer and smothered in an over load of powdered sugar. But above all of the fabulous foods consumed during Mardi Gras, KING CAKE reigns supreme. It’s the most anticipated food at each and every party. Whoever gets the slice of cake with a tiny plastic baby in it throws the next Mardi Gras party thus keeping the celebrations going throughout the entire season. So, with that … “Please Join Our Table” as I share with you where to buy a bakery made cake, a box mix I picked up from Rouse’s Market and made with my granddaughters (it was really good) and a homemade cake I made from scratch.

I actually decided to make my own king cake out of necessity. Ring-shaped, covered in icing with purple, green and gold sugar, and I even hid a plastic baby inside. But why out of necessity? I waited too long to order a cake from the only three bakeries I order from: Manny Randazzo’s, Caluda's and Gambino's. I know our local stores’ in-house bakeries have king cakes, but I figured I could just make my own from scratch. Seriously, after living, working and eating in New Orleans and Baton Rouge for four years, how hard could it be? I think I nailed it … kinda. This recipe was given to me from my friend Jackie Long of New Orleans.

Jackie Long’s NOLA King Cake

INGREDIENTS

2 envelopes active dry yeast

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 cup warm milk (about 110 degrees)

5 large egg yolks, at room temperature

4 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

4 cups powdered sugar

1 plastic king cake baby or a pecan half

5 tablespoons milk, at room temperature

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Purple-, green- and gold-tinted sugar sprinkles

DIRECTIONS: Combine the yeast and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the melted butter and warm milk. 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 everything is 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 (110 degrees), a tablespoon at a time, until it does. Remove the dough from the bowl and form it into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl with the vegetable oil. Put the dough in the bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Make the filling in a large mixing bowl, by mixing the cream cheese with 1 cup of the powdered sugar. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed. Set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it out into a rectangle about 30 inches long and 6 inches wide.

Spread the filling lengthwise over the bottom half of the dough, then flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together. Shape the dough into a cylinder and place it on the prepared baking sheet seam side down. Shape the dough into a ring and pinch the ends together so there isn't a seam. Insert the king cake baby or pecan half into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and put in a warm, draft-free place. Let it rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350.

After cake has risen, brush the top of the cake with 2 tablespoons of the milk; bake 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Icing: Mix the remaining 3 tablespoons milk, lemon juice and remaining 3 cups powdered sugar in medium-size bowl. Blend well. With spatula, spread the icing evenly over the cake. Sprinkle with sugar crystals, alternating colors around the cake. Cut into 2-inch-thick slices with all the guests in attendance. Serves 20 to 22.

P.S. Here is a lagniappe for you (extra or unexpected benefit).

Buy the cake mix from Rouse’s Market or make this Pillsbury version.

Easy King Cake

INGREDIENTS

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1/4 cup light brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 (17.5 ounces) cans jumbo Pillsbury cinnamon rolls with icing

1 can sour cream frosting

1 package pecan pieces

1 box Krusteaz Crumb Cake

2 sticks butter, sliced into tablespoons

1 baby for stuffing

Purple, green and yellow sprinkles

DIRECTIONS: Mix the cinnamon and sugar together. Grease the Bundt pan with the melted butter. Place all of the rolls around the prepared pan, shingling the pieces slightly over each other. Insert baby. Spread the sour cream frosting evenly over the rolls, holding back about 1/4 cup of frosting. Top with the dry cake mix, then the crumble topping, pecans, and then the 2 sticks of butter sliced. Bake for 45 minutes or until done. Remove from oven, let rest 5 minutes. Invert onto a plate then back upright. Top with drizzles of frosting, sprinkle on the purple, yellow and green sprinkles.

Karen Boughton
Author: Karen BoughtonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
I grew up in a big, Greek, cooking family. I married my high school sweetheart and soon had three daughters. My husband and I worked in the family’s Greek restaurant, “Zorba’s,” for several years before moving to Baton Rouge and eventually Corpus Christi. There I taught microwave cooking classes for Amana.in studio and on television for three years before moving to Kingwood in the late '80s. I reached out to learn more about regional and international foods, spending 16 years in management in private athletic/dining/country clubs for ClubCorp, where I embraced health and cooking. In 2008 I joined the Tribune Newspapers as food editor, the same time that I became a nutrition advisor and USANA Health Sciences Associate. These two passions have given me better health and the freedom to live life my way.

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