Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Lesson in King Cake

It's Fat Tuesday and I'm in a rush. You need king cake, and you need it now! So, pardon me if this post seems thrown together, it's just that time is of the essence. Last week, I had the pleasure of hanging out with the "Cake Hags," who you may remember from this post. Maggie and Kate are some amazingly talented bakers here in Atlanta and they happen to bake out of our church's kitchen. Last week, they donated some king cakes (which they also allowed me and my boys to help bake) for the church kids to decorate. The kids had a blast. I mean, who wouldn't when colored sprinkles are involved. Let me show some pictures of the whole process. If you're really just after the recipe, skip to the bottom and get your yeast mixture going stat! While the cake (really, a pastry) is not difficult, it does have several steps that involve waiting. It's best to start it in the morning and work on it in little spurts throughout the day. Or, you could just call Cake Hag or a local bakery and have them do all the work. When I was in Louisiana last fall, I had the pleasure of meeting the bakers at a local grocery store that is famous for it's king cakes. Read more about my adventures here -- and learn more about why a king cake is essential eating for Louisianans this time of year.

So, here we go. King Cake starts out as a yucky looking yeast mixture. It is then transformed into a dough that needs plenty of kneading, then some rest, then some more kneading, then some rolling, then some filling, then some shaping, then some cutting, then some buttering, then some more rest -- and THEN some baking, icing and decorating. Whew!

Yeasty goodness.

Rough dough mixture that needs some kneading.

I even got in on the action. Kneading is so therapeutic!
After its first rest, it's time to roll.
Maggie adds the delicious brown sugar /cinnamon filling.
Maggie shapes it into a ring and gives it some snips.
A little egg wash magic ...
Finally, the kids are let loose with bags of icing and sprinkles.

The end result was worth all the effort. Needless to say, the kids loved it -- and so did the adults. Now, technically this cake needs to be eaten during the Mardi Gras season which culminates today with Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. The partying is supposed to be over until Easter, but if you want to make this cake during Lent, I won't tell anyone!

King's Cake
Recipe courtesy of Cake Hag (Maggie and Kate Sweeney)

1 cup buttermilk warmed to 100-120 degrees F
2/3 cup warm water
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon good vanilla
5 cups all purpose, unbleached flour plus flour for kneading
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
2 packets fast or quick-acting yeast (Most often sold as an attached 3-pack, this calls for 2 of the attached packs. Save the third pack for future use.)
¼ cup butter
3 eggs at room temp (reserve one for egg wash)

1 cup brown sugar
½ cup melted butter at room temp
1 ½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
¾ cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup raisins

2 cups sifted confectioners’ 10x sugar
2-5 tablespoons water
¼ tablespoons very soft butter
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon good vanilla extract
Safe food colors in green, purple, gold/yellow (optional)
Sprinkles in green, gold/yellow and purple

Preparing the Dough: 
  1. Warm buttermilk and stir in 1/4 cup of butter.
  2. Add yeast and 2 tablespoons of the sugar (reserving the rest) to the warm water. Give it a quarter of an hour for the yeast to activate and mixture to grow and bubble
  3. Add the buttermilk and melted butter mixture to the yeast mixture. Whisk in the eggs, the reserved white sugar, vanilla and salt.
  4.  Sift the flour while adding it to the buttermilk mix 1 cup at a time.
  5.  Knead until smooth - about 10 minutes.
  6. Butter or shortening the interior of a large bowl and add the kneaded dough. Rub butter or shortening over the exposed surface of the dough, then cover and keep in a warm place for about two to three hours. It should increase or rise to about twice its original size. When it has risen, divide it in half and roll it out to two sections – each about the size of a half sheet, or 18” x 12.”
  7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  8. Line two cookie sheet pans with parchment paper. (Half sheet pans would be best.)

 Adding the Filling:
  1. Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/3 cup flour, 1/2 cup raisins and add the 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly. 
  2. Roll dough halves out into large rectangles about 12” x 16”
  3. Spread the filling over the dough. Roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 rounded shaped rings. Place each ring on the parchment-prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
  4. Mix egg with 2 tablespoons water and lightly brush over top of dough. If you are adding colored sugar that would bake with the cake, this would be the time to do it.

Baking and Decorating:

  1. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes.  Frost while warm with the confectioners' sugar-based glaze/icing.
  2. Add the doll into the cakes from the bottom once the cakes have cooled well.
  3. Decorate with colored icing and sprinkles as desired.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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