I’ve never been one for Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday/Carneval celebrations. They haven’t been a part of the local culture anywhere I’ve lived except for Austria (you can read a little about that here), so this was the first King Cake I ever ate as well as the first one I ever made. If you, like me, have never had or made one, here’s what to expect: it’s a pretty basic yeast cake filled with a mixture of sweet cream cheese, pecans, cinnamon, and lemon zest. Tradition calls for a toy baby representing Jesus to be hidden inside, but that got overlooked in my cake.
No matter. With or without a plastic baby Jesus (or bean, or other substitute), this cake will surely be a crowd-pleaser. The cream cheese filling is slightly tangy to balance the rich, sweet buttermilk glaze. The cake itself, a broiche-like dough, has a nice tender crumb. The flavors meld together perfectly.
So while the rest of the blogosphere becomes inundated with red and pink things for Valentine’s Day (Happy Valentine’s Day), how about giving this cake a try instead?
slightly adapted from Saveur
For the dough
- 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
- 2 T light brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
For the filling
- 12 oz cream cheese
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 2 T maple syrup
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- zest of 1/2 a lemon
For the frosting
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- splash vanilla extract
- sanding sugar or sprinkles, to decorate
For the dough: In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine yeast, water, and a pinch of sugar and allow the yeast to activate and become foamy, 5-10 minutes. Add sugars, milk, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk and beat until combined. Add flour and salt and mix. Using the dough hook attachment, knead on high for four minutes. Add the butter and continue kneading for another six minutes until fully incorporated. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl and form a ball. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2-2 hours.
For the filling: Cream together cream cheese, brown sugar, pecans, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and lemon zest.
Make the cake: Punch down the dough and turn out onto a clean, floured surface. Roll the dough into a large circle about 1/4″ thick. Poke a hole in the center and gently stretch and widen the hole. Halfway between the edge of the dough and the edge of the hole, place dollops of the filling. Starting with the outside edge, roll the dough over the filling to form a ring. The seam should be hidden. Cover and let sit for one hour.
Bake the cake at 350°F for thirty minutes, until golden brown.
To frost: Let the cake cool completely. Whisk together powdered sugar, buttermilk, and vanilla. Pour or spread over the cake, and decorate with sanding sugar or sprinkles.
(My friend who is from The South where Mardi Gras is more of a thing would like to add the following instructions for hiding a baby inside the cake: BABY. Strategically place the baby where only your favorite person will be expected to seek it. Alternatively–the preferred method–hide multiple babies and cause chaos!)