Today is the Feast of the Epiphany or Twelfth Night or King’s Day in many corners of the world, including this one. For me, it is the day that you can finally eat king cake. As with many a New Orleanian, my childhood memories of king cake were McKenzie’s or disappointment. While McKenzie’s are still available (in a manner of speaking) from Tastee Donuts, they just aren’t the same. But the classic McKenzie’s style of no icing, no filling is still my go to. Last year, I undertook making my own king cake, and will undoubtedly do so again this year. The process is really easy (if not a bit time intensive), the proof in that is that I’ve been able to pull it off multiple times with success. If I can do it, you can bet your ass you can.
I started with this recipe posted over on Chef’s Lagniappe and through some tweaking by Cupcake (through her excellent baking knowledge) and myself (through totally screwing things up by accident) we came up with what turned out to be a nice light, fluffy king cake. So without further ramblings, here’s the recipe (which was, in fact, posted last year):
Ingredients for king cake:
1/2 cup warm water
5 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 2 tsp sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup warm milk
3 large eggs
2 egg yolks
4 oz unsalted butter plus an additional 2 tablespoons of butter plus extra for greasing the bowl and baking sheet
A few tablespoons of cinnamon and sugar
Marischino cherries (optional)
Ingredients for way too much icing and decorations:
1 lb powdered sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
Milk, enough to make a glaze
Purple, Green and Gold sugar
nonpareils (the rainbow sprinkles–optional)
1. Combine the warm water, yeast and 2 teaspoons of sugar in a bowl and set in a warm place until the yeast begins to bubble (around 10 minutes, but may wildly vary–yeast is tempermental).
It is always good to see that the yeast is alive and kicking. Sometimes the store-bought stuff is DOA.
2. Combine the yeast mixture, both flours, the remaining sugar, nutmeg, salt and lemon zest in a mixer. Add in the warm milk, the eggs and yolks, plus the 4 ounces of butter (melted). Beat that bad boy with a dough hook on medium until the mixture is smooth.
3. Once the dough is smooth, throw some flour on the counter and knead the dough. Add flour as needed until the dough is no longer sticky. Keep on kneading until the dough is nice and stretchy.
4. Transfer dough to a greased bowl. You can use any number of things to grease a bowl when baking, melted butter, Pam, olive oil, etc. Cupcake says it is best to pick something that matches what is in the recipe already to keep a consistent flavor profile (unless you are deliberately trying to introduce another flavor). Flip the dough so the top of the dough is greased. Cover the dough and set aside until doubled (hour and a half/two hours or so).
This is a great magic trick, cover the dough mixture and in about 90 minute it doubles in size!
5. Push the dough down, then transferred back to a lightly floured countertop. Separate the dough into three strands for braiding.
6. Once you get the three strands separated out, create a cinnamon/sugar mixture (50/50 is about what we went with). With your mixture made, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Brush the butter on the first strand and sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar mixture. No need to go overboard, just enough to give a little extra sweetness and flavor to the bread. Repeat for the remaining two strands and braid the three together. NOTE: If you would like to add a filling to your king cake, we would add it as you braid.
7. Place your undoubtedly beautiful braid on a buttered baking sheet, and make it into an oval. Pinch the ends together to seal closed. Cover the braided oval and let rise for another 45 minutes. Depending upon how long it takes your oven to pre-heat to 350, you’ll want to start that sometime during this step.
8. If you want to add in the McKenzie cherry piece to your king cake, you’ll want to add the cherry pieces into the dough just before dropping it into the oven.
9. Bake until golden brown. This could range anywhere from 25 minutes to 45 minutes depending upon the oven. Once golden brown, set aside to cool.
10. While the king cake is cooling, make the icing. If you’re going for a traditional McKenzie’s like we do, you’ll be able to significantly reduce the amount of icing you make. Mix together the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. As you’re mixing, mix in just enough milk to get a glaze. Like pornography, you’ll know it when you see it.
11. Once your king cake has cooled, glaze and decorate with alternating purple, green and gold sugar sprinkles. If you added the cherries, use the nonpareils around the cherries. We use just enough glaze to act as a “glue” to keep the sprinkles attached to the king cake. If you lean more towards the icing king cakes, go hog wild. As you can see below, my skills at aesthetically decorating a king cake are pretty abysmal. Of course, pretty has no impact on taste. Just ask the praline.