It’s that fluffy, breaded ring that appears once a year as part of a long-celebrated tradition in different parts of the world. The sweet dough, kissed with the warm spice of nutmeg, is filled with a creamy, fruity filling and topped with a sandy-smooth glaze that’s candied with brightly colored green, gold and purple sprinkles for finish.
And the best part is that your slice may be the one that holds the prize!
We’re talking about the king cake — a long-held Carnival and Mardi Gras tradition. In this look at the Louisiana-Gulf Coast version of the treat, we're going back to the king cake's roots. Then we’ll add a new twist to the old favorite by creating a unique and delicious pastry twist by baking with
Coca-Cola, warm but not hot
- 2 packs of active dry yeast (1/4-ounce packs)
- .5 Cups sugar
- .5 Cups unsalted butter, melted
- 7 Cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- 2 Teaspoons salt
- 1 Teaspoon ground nutmeg, grated preferable
- 1 Teaspoon lemon zest, freshly grated
- 8 Ounces cream cheese
- .5 Cups confectioner's sugar
- 1 large banana
- 2 Cups confectioner's sugar
- .25 Cups lemon juice, fresh squeezed
- 2 Tablespoons milk
- .25 Cups candy sprinkles in at least 3 different colors
- 1 large bean or a seasonally appropriate porcelain figurine (optional)
- Total Time: 3 hr 45 min
- Prep Time: 3 hr 15 min
- Cook Time: 30 min
Part One: Prepare the Dough
1. In a large bowl, combine 4 cups of the flour with the lemon zest, nutmeg and salt. Reserve the remainder of the flour for later. Set the combined ingredients aside.
2. Empty the packets of yeast into a large bowl. Warm 8 oz. of
The idea is that the liquid should be warm but not hot to the touch. It's okay to overheat it, but let it cool. Slowly add this into the yeast. Let the yeast dissolve in the
3. Melt the butter. Prepare a surface for the soon-to-arrive dough, lightly dusting it with flour, and set an additional handful of flour to one side a small bowl. (This is to dust your dough a bit, if necessary when it's time to knead.)
4. Once the yeast and Coke mixture is fairly creamy — stir gently to see that it is — add the melted butter and stir once or twice. Add the 12 oz of unheated
5. In an electric mixer set to its lowest speed, add your flour combination, 1 cup at a time, to the yeast and butter and Coke. Once you've added all 4 cups, if it still looks very liquid, proceed to add more flour from the 3 1/2 cups you set aside — 1/2 cup at a time.
As soon as the mixture has pulled together into a dough, stop.
6. Tip the dough out onto your prepared, floured surface. Knead it until it becomes smooth, a bit resistant, but still pliant to the fingers. You may dust it lightly if it's too sticky at the start. (Don't overdo the flour during this step.) You should knead for 5–10 minutes, until what you have at hand looks and feels like a bread dough.
7. Place the dough in your lightly oiled bowl. Turn the dough once or twice to coat it. Dampen a cloth, cover the bowl — the cloth shouldn't touch the dough — and set this in your turned-off oven to rise for 2 hours.
Part Two: Filling and Ring
1. Put the cream cheese and 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar into a small bowl. Mix together well.
2. On a separate plate or board, cut the banana into 1-inch segments and mash (leave some small chunks, you don't want a paste).
3. Prepare a large surface for the risen dough. Lightly dust with flour.
4. Grease a large baking sheet. Also, grease the outside rim of an oven-proof circular object — at least 6 inches across. You'll use this to preserve the opening in the center of the ring. A soup bowl works well, but be certain that it is one that can take the oven's heat for a half-hour.
5. When the cake dough has risen — it should be double in size — turn it out onto your large floured surface. Roll the dough into a roughly 6x30-inch slab, and then straighten this by hand so that it rectangular.
6. Gently spread the cream cheese mixture along the center of the rectangle, and then spread the banana mash along the cream cheese.
7. Carefully lift the long edges of the rectangle and seal them over the filling. Seal the ends. Using your hands, make the length of the sealed dough into a cylinder. Roll the cylinder over so that the seam side is underneath.
8. Bring the ends of the dough-cylinder together so that it forms a ring. Very carefully — you may need a second pair of hands to help — move the cylinder onto the greased baking sheet. One way to do this is to place the sheet just off the edge of your floured surface. You can then scoot the ring to the edge and daintily nudge it onto the sheet.
9. Place the greased circular center-holder into the ring, being careful to not let it squash down any of the interior dough.
Cover this with a dry towel and set it in a warm place to rise. This should take about 45 minutes. Preheat your empty oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 C).
10. When the dough has doubled in size, remove the towel and place the baking sheet — center holder still in place — into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cake when it's golden brown and allow it to cool. When you're certain that it's not too hot to touch, pry the center-holder free from the ring. You may have to do this from underneath.
11. If you wish to include the figurine or some such thing, gently turn over the ring, slice an opening, and tuck the piece into the cake. Nobody should ever eat a king cake without knowing that there's potentially an object in their slice! (It is probably wisest to avoid this tradition when it comes to kids.) As an alternative, place the figurine in the center of the ring, as a nod to times past.
Part Three: Glaze
1. With a whisk, mix together in a small bowl: 2 cups of confectioner's sugar, the lemon juice, and the milk. The consistency should be smooth and free of clumps.
2. Using a large spoon, drizzle the cooled cake ring with the glaze. As you go, liberally shower the glazed sections with the candy sprinkles, alternating colors. At the end, gently blow away the excess sprinkles.
3. Slice and serve.
History of the Mardi Gras King Cake
As it relates to Mardi Gras, French and Spanish settlers brought the king cake — an old delicacy rooted in traditions of Christmas and the Epiphany — to the North American continent when they settled in what is now Louisiana and the southern United States.
It’s a standing tradition to hide a plastic, baby Jesus (i.e. the King) inside the cake. According to New Orleans paper The Times-Picayune, which published an early recipe for the treat in 1901, "Latin Americans, like New Orleanians, place a figurine representing the Christ child inside the cake." In other cultures, the king cake might not contain a baby Jesus but instead be replaced with a coin, bean, pecan or pea for luck.
The king cake is intended to be shared. Whoever gets the piece of cake with the baby Jesus inside is declared the winner. The figurine is the prize, making the recipient the king of the party — much like catching the bride’s bouquet at a wedding is supposed to name the next bride-to-be, the winner of the baby is to host the next king-cake bash.
Since its adaption in the U.S., the king cake’s reign has extended beyond the Gulf Coast and its Mardi Gras and Carnival origins. These days, king cakes are making their way into football playoff parties, Halloween and Valentine's events, as well as Saint Patrick's Day celebrations.
And this time of year, bakeries are all-hands-on-deck when it comes to the circular treat. At Haydel's Bakery, in New Orleans, Laura Guidry, a front-of-shop manager, was losing her voice from taking so many orders by phone.
"The Haydels, our bakers, are working from three in the morning until eight at night," she said on Feb. 8. "We have a few thousand heading out for shipping on a daily basis, not including the ones we sell in the store.
Altogether, Haydel's moves some 50,000 king cakes in a season (based on 2012 numbers).
But you don't need to go all the way to New Orleans — or wait for one of Haydel's in the mail — to enjoy a king cake this Mardi Gras. If all this king-cake talk is making you hungry, we have a recipe you can make at home.
Our recipe is loosely based on traditional versions, but we're flavoring our cake with
For those with egg allergies, our
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