NEW ORLEANS: This is old school king cake — the one I grew up eating in New Orleans. Not too sweet, no cinnamon swirl, no cream cheese filling, and no icing. If you are younger than me, you probably enjoyed those versions, as they are what’s commonly made now. King Arthur Baking Company’s Mardi Gras King Cake is an excellent source for king cakes with fillings and icing.
The ingredients that go into a king cake dough are similar to a brioche, but the end result is more like a yeast-raised cake than a bread. King cakes are baked, sold and shared throughout the city — and beyond, beginning on January 6th, and ending on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), the day before Lent. Whoever finds the little plastic baby in their serving is responsible for providing the next king cake for the group.
If you aren’t up for making one from scratch, Mam Papaul’s Box Mix will do the trick in a quarter of the time! Plus, it comes with the colored sugars and the little plastic baby, which can be difficult to find if you’re not down south.
STEP 1: Prepare dough
- 1/2 cup milk, warmed to about 110 degrees
- 2-1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (1 packet)
- Pour the warm milk into the bowl of a stand mixer. (If you don’t have one, just use a large bowl).
- Sitr/whisk in the yeast and let stand for 5 minutes. (This is to make sure your yeast is live.)
- 2~3 tablespoons sugar (up to you: 2 is barely sweet; 3 is just sweet enough)
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened, and cut into rough pieces
- 3 eggs: Use 2 eggs and 1 yolk for the bread: save the white to brush on top
- 1 tablespoon orange zest, or 1/2 teaspoon orange extract (zest is better if you have it!)
Add the butter, 2 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk, and the orange extract. Sitr/whisk to combine. (The butter isn’t supposed to thoroughly mix in. It’ll look like loose scrambled eggs.)
- 450 + 30 grams all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
STEP 2: Proof, Shape and Bake
- Parchment paper (easier)
- Colored sugars * : purple (justice), green (faith), and yellow/gold (power)
- Plastic baby, kidney bean, or pecan
- Cover, then set aside to proof until doubled, which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. Check often; the temperature of the room makes a big difference in how long it takes to double.
- Turn out the dough, press it down gently, and weigh it, so you can divide into 3 equal portions.
- Roll each piece into long ropes of equal length, and place them on parchment paper.
- Braid the ropes together, starting from the middle.
- Shape into an oval, or circle** then join the ends by flattening one end and making a cap/cover with it over the other end.
- Lift the parchment paper to transfer the crown to a baking sheet.
- Place a small ramekin in the center to keep the inside hole open.
- If you’re using a bean or pecan, push it up inside from the bottom. The baby goes in after it bakes.
- Preheat over to 350 degrees.
- Cover, and let rise until it doubles in size, about 20~40 minutes.
- Add a tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt (helps to mix it up) to the egg white and mix.
- Brush onto the top of the cake, and then sprinkle heavily with the coloured sugars. (This technique removes the necessity of using a white icing once it’s baked to make the sugars stick)
- Bake for about 30 minutes, until the inside temperature reaches 200 degrees. It’s a soft dough, so it might not feel/look thoroughly cooked, checking the temperature is the best way to be sure.
- After you remove it from the oven, add the baby through the bottom if you didn’t use a bean or nut.
- If your braid rose so much that it separated a bit during the bake, you can rub a stick of butter in those bare spots, and sprinkle sugar on them to cover them up.
- Place on a wire rack to cool.
* You can use blue and red liquid food colouring to make purple, (which is what I did), but honeslty, it’s worth just buying some purple sugar. So much prettier!
** I prefer a circular shape, because that’s more similar to a crown. The standard in bakeries is an oval, and I wonder if that’s because it’s easier to have a rectangular box rather than a large square box, like a pizza.