Laissez le bon temps rouler, everyone.
That’s French for “Let the Good Times Roll.” It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot at this time of year, as it’s usually the time for Mardi Gras. I have never been to a Mardi Gras celebration. Unfortunately, I’ve never even been to Louisiana. I do really like Cajun food, though. For now I guess that’s as close as I’m going to get.
Gumbo, jambalya, beignets, and pecan pralines are just a few of the things that come to mind when it comes to Mardi Gras food, or Cajun food itself. There’s also a little dessert called King Cake that gets associated with both, and will be the focus of today’s post. It may be called a ‘Cake’, but I prefer to think of King Cake as a very enriched delicious sweet bread that’s filled with delicious sweet stuff.
The fillings can range from cinnamon sugar and pecans, cream cheese, marzipan, or fruit. The most common is cinnamon sugar with pecans. The top of the cake is drizzled with a thin glaze or icing, then showered in purple, green and yellow sprinkles–the common colors of Mardi Gras. Most King Cakes are filled with a small plastic baby to signify the Baby Jesus. The person who finds the ‘Baby King’ in their piece of cake is supposed to have a lucky year.
I made my first King Cake two years ago. I kept things simple, with a twist, and filled it with chocolate. I didn’t get around to making one last year, so I knew that going into this year I was going to be sure I didn’t make that mistake again. I did want to shake things up and make it a different way than I did before. I also wanted to do more than just a cinnamon sugar-pecan filling.
I have one complaint with a lot of the cinnamon sugar fillings in bread that both I’ve seen, and tried : the cinnamon sugar often ends up getting absorbed into the dough while baking, and by the time all is done, there’s not much of it left. I wanted this King Cake to be truly decadent and full of…filling by the time it was finished baking.
I found a recipe for a King Cake that does just that on LemonBaby.co. The filling in Amanda’s recipe is made from a mix of melted butter, cream cheese and brown sugar and toasted pecans. The dairy gets simmered together with the sugar until it forms a smooth sweet sticky spread, then the nuts get mixed in just before it all is slathered on the risen dough. Most King Cakes are shaped into rings, but for this one I choose to make a loose braid that I then wound into one big mass. Feel free to do whatever you like with this one in shaping.
Huge props to Amanda for this recipe. It was EXACTLY what I was looking for. The pecan praline filling doesn’t get absorbed by the dough at all during baking, and the cream cheese gives it a nice tang of flavor to counterbalance all the other sweetness that goes on in a King Cake. It would pair perfectly in the morning with a cup of coffee.
King Cake requires some time, but the effort is definitely more than worth it.
Pecan Praline Cream Cheese King Cake
- 3/4 cup warm milk
- 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 stick of butter, melted and cooled
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 whole egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup brown sugar (light or dark, doesn’t matter)
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 1 cup chopped, toasted pecans
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- Purple, green and yellow sanding sugar or sprinkles
Pour the warm milk into a glass measuring bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top, then sprinkle the one tablespoon of sugar on top of that. Allow to sit for 10 minutes until proofed and frothy.
Stir together the flour, cinnamon and salt in a medium size bowl and set aside.
Pour the yeast-water mixture into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the melted butter, egg yolks, and vanilla extract and mix on medium until combined.
Switch to the dough hook and add the flour mixture gradually, in about three increments, mixing on medium speed just until the dough begins to come together around the hook. Once it has, turn off the mixer and scrape the dough out onto a clean work surface that you’ve sprinkled with flour (like a pastry mat or a smooth countertop). Use your hands to firmly knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 10-12 minutes. You can use additional flour (about 1/4 cup at a time) if it’s still too sticky; I also prefer to rub my hands with canola, olive or vegetable oil before kneading and that helps a lot without having to add more flour.
. (The dough is ready when you can stretch one piece of it out very thin, and it’s translucent enough to see through.)
Grease the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl and place the dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel and allow it to rest until doubled in size, 1 1/2 hours–2 hours.
Meanwhile, make the filling: in a medium saucepan, melt the butter with the cream cheese over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar with a wire whisk. When the mixture starts to bubble, immediately remove from the heat and stir in the pecans. Set aside to cool completely.
When dough is finished rising, turn out onto a clean work surface and punch down to deflate air bubbles.
Roll the risen dough into a 10 x 20 inch rectangle on top of a piece of parchment paper. Spread the filling on half of the long side of the dough. Fold the dough in half covering the filling. Pat dough down firmly so the dough will stick together. Cut dough into three long strips. Press the tops of the strips together and braid the strips. Press the ends together at the bottom. (This will probably get messy; it’s ok, just tuck in what you can of anything that falls out.)
Gently stretch the braid so that it measures 20 inches again. Shape it into a circle/oval and press the edges together. Use the edges of the parchment paper to lift and transfer the cake to a large sheet pan (preferably one without sides). Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel and allow to rise until puffy, about 45-50 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk the one egg together with the tablespoon of water in a small bowl and brush egg wash all over the top of the cake with a pastry brush.
Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown. (You may have to cover it with foil if it starts to brown too quickly.) Inner temp of the bread should be 200-205 Degrees Fahrenheit. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
To make icing, stir powdered sugar and a few tablespoons of milk at a time together in a bowl with a fork. Add enough of the milk until it reaches the consistency that you like. Use a fork to drizzle over the top of the King Cake. Sprinkle the purple, green and yellow sanding sugar on top in a pattern. Allow to sit for about one hour until the icing has dried.