Look out prudes and teetotalers … here comes Mardi Gras! Fat Tuesday always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, which means all hell breaks loose on Feb 28th this year. (We’re not even given time to recoup from our Valentine’s Day chocolate comas.) Of course hard core revelers are already deep into it, the season having begun on the Epiphany, January 6th. If you are in the know, you will already be enjoying this recipe, or a version of it.
Traditionally prepared anytime between Twelfth Night and Ash Wednesday, the King’s cake is the center of every Mardi Gras celebration. Like many other celebration cakes around the world, there is a prize baked into the cake for one lucky partygoer. Toys, coins, beans, and nuts have been popular over the years. In the 1800’s, rich plantation owners would bake in a precious jewel. More commonly today, the surprise is a small toy baby. (Am I the only one that thinks this is a little gruesome?) The recipient is crowned king or queen, and is then obligated to host next year’s party (not unlike the Mexican Rosca des Reyes tradition). This seems like a scam by some burnt-out hostesses.
Many Bakeries offer a variety of flavored King Cakes, and you can easily add a filling to this dough such as nuts, raisins, or chocolate chips. You can also roll the dough into a rectangle, spread on a filling, then roll it up as with cinnamon rolls. Common fillings include cinnamon sugar or cream cheese. I am not a fan of the colored sugar, but I’m a weirdy, so have at it.
1 cup milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4-6 cup bread flour
1 small toy, china doll, coin, or dried bean
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3-4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Purple, green and gold (or yellow) colored sugars
- Combine milk, 1 tablespoon sugar, yeast, stir to dissolve, and let stand 10 minutes, until foamy.
- Add eggs and yolks, remaining sugar, butter, nutmeg, lemon zest (reserve juice), salt, and enough bread flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead 8-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Add flour only as needed to reduce stickiness. Return to bowl, dust with flour, cover with plastic, and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 325˚F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn risen dough out onto a floured surface, and roll into a 2 foot long rope. Form the rope into a circle on the prepared pan, carefully pinching ends together. Gently press the toy into the wreath, then cover loosely with plastic and rise again for 45-60 minutes. (Alternatively, the dough may also be formed into a long braid before being formed into a circle.)
- Whisk together egg, a pinch of salt, and a tablespoon of water, and brush gently onto the top of the risen loaf. Bake until golden brown and hollow sounding, about 45-60 minutes. Cool completely on a rack.
- Beat together reserved lemon juice, milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar, until thick and smooth. Spread icing on loaf, then decorate with the three colored sugars. Slice and serve.
FYI … The green, purple and gold sugars atop this famous loaf symbolize justice, faith and power.