I'll be the first to admit that, if a recipe takes longer than 40 minutes, I'm probably not going to tackle it. I'm an instant gratification baker. I like recipes that are quick and easy and rustic enough to hide my slapdash kitchen tendencies.
I'm gonna warn you right from the get-go: This King Cake is not one of those recipes. It takes some time and some kneading and not one, but two rises. But it's Mardi Gras. And Valentines. And Chinese New Year! And if that isn't reason enough to bake a cake, I don't know what is.
A King Cake is really more of a brioche than an actual "cake." A tea-ring / cinnamon roll of sorts with a sweet bready texture that makes it totally acceptable to eat for breakfast. Traditionally made only in the days between twelfth night and Mardi Gras, King Cakes have a ton of fun rituals and traditions associated. The baker hides a bean or a tiny plastic baby in the cake after baking, and whoever finds the baby in their slice is king or queen of the party. They then have to throw the next Mardi Gras party and procure the next King Cake. Everybody wins.
This year, I made the traditional cinnamon sugar King Cake, as well as a braided strawberry cream cheese variation. My first time tackling my mother's tried and true recipe from when we lived in New Orleans. The smell of these baking in the oven instantly takes me back to stirring jambalaya on a stool in my Mom's kitchen.
It's worth the kneading.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
(Makes 2 rings)
1/4 c. butter
16 oz sour cream
1/3 c. sugar
1 tsp salt
2 pkgs active dry yeast
1 TBS sugar
1/2 c. warm water
5 cups all purpose flour
1/4 c. strawberry preserves
1/4 c. cream cheese
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c. sugar and
1/3 c. softened butter
1. Combine first four ingredients in a sauce pan. Heat until butter melts, stirring occasionally. Cool mixture to 105 - 115°F.
2. Dissolve yeast and 1 TBS sugar in warm water and let stand 5 - 10 mins. Add butter mixture, eggs and 2 cups flour. Beat at medium speed with electric mixer for 2 - 3 mins or until smooth. Gradually mix in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.
3. Turn dough out on a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (10 - 15 mins.) Place in a well greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (about 85°) with no drafts for about an hour or until dough has doubled in size.
4. Punch dough down gently and divide into two equal parts. On a lightly floured surface, roll one portion out into a 28" x 10" rectangle.
5. Mix cinnamon and sugar in small bowl. Spread the softened butter over the dough, followed by the cinnamon sugar mixture. If you are using cream cheese and jam instead, spread a thin layer of each on your dough. Then roll the down (from the long side) jelly roll style, to create one long roll. Bring the ends of the roll together to form an oval. Repeat with second cake. Place on a greased cookie sheet.
6. Let rise again, covered in a warm area for about 30 mins.
7. Bake at 375° for 15 - 20 mins or until golden brown.
8. Optional: Let cool and ice with a simple powdered sugar icing. If you want to be super traditional, decorate with purple, gold and green sugar. Just shake a few drops of food coloring in a small mason jar with some sugar. Slip a plastic baby in from the bottom of the cake, so it's hidden within.
* Note: I haven't included instructions for the braided version as I haven't quite perfected the technique yet. This attempt was a little uneven and lost some of the filling. Will update as soon as I nail it!