THIS YEAR’S King Cake was entirely my own tinkering. The first time I had King Cake (1999?) I did not like the pastry so I tinkered, and eventually made my own recipe (based on the Brioche recipe in Essential Pepin). You need a food processor for this. Then I had to fix the filling. For a while I was happy with a traditional combo of sweetened cream cheese and pecans, but this year I tried a new thing that I made up. Then I topped it with a whisky buttercream. It is traditional to include a small baby toy in the cake. Whoever finds the Baby is supposed to host the next King Cake party. There’s more on this tradition at the end of the post.
So here’s the recipe for one small ring:
- 1/2 envelope (1.5 teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 1/4 Cup warm water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 large (pasture raised) egg
- 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 stick salted butter, softened
- 1 large egg, beaten, for egg wash
- minced orange zest (about 2 tablespoons) and the juice of 1/2 of the orange.
Combine the yeast, warm water, and sugar in a food processor. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes, until bubbly.
Add the salt, eggs, orange juice, and flour to the yeast mixture and process for about 30 seconds. With the machine running, add the softened butter in chunks. Add the orange zest last and process for another 15 to 20 seconds. Transfer the dough to a bowl that has a lid (such as a Tupperware container, etc), cover with a cloth towel (not the lid yet), and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until it has doubled in bulk.
Punch the dough down then put on the lid and put it in the fridge overnight. This step is very important: the dough has too much butter and not enough structure to be used until it firms up in the fridge. This overnight (or longer) step also hydrates the flour and makes for a softer dough. This step is unclear in the published recipe, but you can make sense out of Jaques talking through the recipe on the TV episode which, sadly, is not online.
- 16 ounces cream cheese (two boxes)
- 1 large jar (29 oz) Mincemeat Pie filling
Combine using a spoon or electric mixer. There should be no solid lumps of cheese. Let sit overnight to meld the flavors. There’s a lot of uber-sweet recipes out there for the filling – cream cheese, whipped cream, strawberries, pecan pie… I wanted something that was holiday flavored but tangy so, mincemeat it is.
For a cake about 8-9″ around (as in the picture), roll the solid dough out on a floured surface. You want a rectangle about 24″ x 8-9″. Trim the short sides so that there will be a smooth seam. The long sides can be a little rough. The dough should be about 1/8-1/4″ thick. You can make it longer if you like.
Place the filling in a line down the center of the dough. Wet one long side of the dough with water and then roll the dry side over to the wet side, letting the seam end up on the bottom of the cake. Then join the two ends into a circle and place on a round pan. (I use the removable bottom of one of my cake tins.) I have used a parchment paper liner, but it’s not needed. If your pan tends to stick, use your judgment.
Moisten the ends of the dough and slide one end into the other to make a better seam. I’m not yet good with this and it always ends up looking rather rough: we’ll cover it with frosting so don’t worry about it!
Once the dough has been rolled this thin it will not rise very much at all, but leave it sitting on the counter, covered with a towel, while the oven preheats.
Preheat oven to 425. When the oven reaches this temperature, put the cake in the oven and then set the temperature to 350. Bake for 40-50 mins. Remove from the oven and set it aside to cool fully before frosting.
If you’re going to add a small baby to this cake, now is the time to cut a slit into one side of the cake and insert the baby. You’ll cover the slit with frosting.
- 1.5 ounce whisky
- 2-3 cups confectioners sugar
- 1 stick softened butter (salted)
- Food coloring (to make green, purple, and yellow frostings)
Place the sugar in a bowl. Dump in the whisky. Using a whisk, combine the sugar and the whisky. You may need to add additional sugar: keep whisking until there are no lumps of sugar and you have the consistency of a good, stiff frosting. Then begin whisking in the butter bit by bit. If you have an electric whisk this will make the frosting fluffier but it’s not needed. Once you have a good, rich buttercream, divide this into thirds. In three individual bowls, use the food coloring to make one yellow, one green, and one purple. Using the three colors frost the cake in any pattern you like. You can use stripes as I did, or swirl them together or whatever gets you excited. You can also use sugar sprinkles (etc) to make this even more festive.
The Baby and the Traditional Next Party
OK King Cake is intended to be served from Epiphany (it’s named for the Three Kings) until Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the last day for all this silly feasting to happen. It’s best to serve this with friends. When you slice into the cake someone will get the baby. They are supposed to host the next party. If you serve the first King Cake on Epiphany (6 January) and then host your friends weekly, there can be up to 7 weeks (I think) of time here, so that’s a good few parties! Have coffee with friends – maybe do a book group? The person who gets the Baby this week brings the treats next week. The person who gets the Baby on Mardi Gras hosts the Epiphany Party next year. It’s really quite fun!
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