Tuesday, January 8, 2013

King Cake

I was trying to think of something special to make this weekend when I saw a headline on my How-To Of The Day headline ticker offering a how-to on making a king cake to celebrate the Epiphany. 

While we weren't celebrating the Epiphany (the twelfth day of Christmas), I was completely intrigued by the idea of making a king cake. Apparently right now, between the day of the Epiphany (January 6th) and Mardi Gras (February 12th, this year, though it varies) it is king cake season.

So I decided to make one!

I searched around to find a different recipe than the one in the how-to, and chose this one. Not only did it look delicious, but the recipe made one single loaf, whereas most that I'd seen made two. Which meant that I would neither wind up with too much bread nor would I have to do any division. Score!

The most recognizable part of a king cake is the decoration - it's usually festively decorated with colored sugar sprinkles in the Mardi Gras colors of green, purple and yellow (gold).  The only color of sanding sugar that I have in the house is red. And I didn't want to buy three colors. So I made my own.

It's actually super easy to do. All you need is sugar and food coloring.

I found that one drop of food coloring for each two tablespoons of sugar gave me the richness of each color that I was looking for, but you can make it as light or dark as you want my adding more or less sugar or food coloring - it's completely up to you!

The dough is a pretty simple sweet, enriched dough. The filling is a simple mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, nuts and butter. I substituted raisins for the nuts so that little man could enjoy the bread, too.

The dough is then rolled up jelly-roll style and then shaped into an oval.  Another rise, and then thirty minutes in the oven and I had a beautiful, deliciously golden, nicely risen loaf.

But it wasn't done.

Once it cools all the way, it is time to decorate it!

One thickened confectioners' sugar glaze and three homemade colors of sugar later, it was looking fun and festive!

And it was all ready just in time for little miss's after school snack.

While the kids' favorite part was the sweet, sugary glaze (no surprise), the whole thing was a delicious hit.  I may just have to make another for Mardi Gras next month!

And, in case you are both familiar with king cake traditions and curious, there were no little plastic babies hidden in mine. The closest I had was little a plastic army-guy. So I skipped it.

Mardi Gras King Cake
(from The Galley Gourmet)

makes one 12-inch oval cake

For the dough:
1/2 cup milk (I used coconut milk)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk until bubbles appear around the edges.  Add the butter and set aside to cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the sugar.  Let stand until bubbled and frothy, about 10 minutes.  Add the cooled milk mixture, the eggs, remaining sugar, vanilla, salt, and nutmeg.  With the mixer on low, knead in the flour one cup at a time.  Increase the speed to medium-high and knead until smooth, about 5-7 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead into a ball.  Spray a large bowl with non-stick spray, cover with a sheet of plastic wrap, and place in a warm, draft free place until doubled in volume, about 60-90 minutes.

For the filling:
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 Tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, pecans if using, and flour.  Pour in the melted butter and mix until a paste forms; set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

When the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface.  Roll the dough into a 10x24-inch rectangle.  Spread the filling (it won't be smooth and even) over the dough.  Starting with the widest end, roll up the dough into a jelly roll, pinching the seems well.  Bring the ends together to form an oval, pinching the end seams, as well.  Place the oval onto the prepared baking sheet.  Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm draft free place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375° F.  Bake the cake for 30 minutes, tenting with a sheet of foil the last 10 minutes if it appears to be browning too quickly.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the icing and decoration:
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons milk (I used coconut milk)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Colored sugar crystals (I made my own, simply adding one drop of food coloring to each 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners' sugar, milk, corn syrup, and vanilla until smooth.  Place the cake (still on the rack) over a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the icing over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides.  Sprinkle with the sugar crystals, alternating colors as you go.  Allow the icing to set before slicing.



  1. Not only does this look good but I expect it taste great! I love the addition of coconut milk!

  2. Looks yummy. The thought of a green army guy in the king cake made me LOL

  3. I have always wanted to make one of these and now you've spurred me on. I love the cinnamon brown sugar swirl filling..is that a norm? One of the reasons I never made King Cake was because I thought it was just a dry sweet bread with icing and colors! I think the cinnamon filling is brilliant, Shelley! What a masterpiece! Yours would sell like hotcakes on Bourbon Street!

  4. This recipe was a flop for me. I haven't baked it yet, (the oven's heating) but it's WAY to 'wet'. Not like a traditional dough at all. I'm wondering if the recipe should call for more flour. So 'wet' my dishtowel stuck to the top while it was rising. Took it off and tore off the entire top layer... So sad... Any ideas?

    1. I'm so sorry that the recipe didn't work out for you! Was it particularly humid that day? I have had to adjust flour amounts sometimes, but this one worked out for me... I hope you have a chance to try it again, or let me know if you find a recipe that works out better for you!

    2. I had the same problem on a very dry day. The dough had the consistency of cake batter. Added another cup of flour and it was much better. Still a little moist, but at least I could knead it at that point.


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