Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Mardi Gras: King's Cake

 In honor of Mardis Gras today, we put together a King's Cake: a cinnamon roll-like cake with sugary icing and traditional Mardis Gras colors: gold (for power), green (for faith) and purple (for justice). King Cake is a New Orleans tradition served after January 6th until Mardi Gras Day. The cake has a small trinket (often a small toy baby or half of a pecan, sometimes said to represent the Christ child) inside.  The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket gets to be "King for a Day" (and historically, gets to be in charge of providing the next cake, but that doesn't seem as fun).  

Celebrating Mardis Gras has not been much of a tradition in my house, but we thought this looked like a fun kid project (what kid doesn't love frosting and sprinkles?) and an opportunity to talk about the season of Lent, Christ's sacrifice for us and the joy of Easter to come! We skipped talking about how you get beads and so forth... : )

You may notice that the dough of the King's Cake is startlingly similar to the recipe for Challa.  You can use a half batch of Challa dough instead (and you can use either dough recipe to make homemade cinnamon rolls!).  There's also some shortcut hints at the end (like using packages of crescent rolls). 

Mardis Gras King's Cake
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup honey
4 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
Roughly 6  cups white unbleached flour (can substitute up to a couple cups of whole wheat flour)
small plastic toy (baby shaped) or pecan half

3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)
6-8 tablespoons butter, softened

2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-4 tablespoons milk
green, yellow and purple colored sugar or white sugar and food colors (just stir together white sugar and food color in a small bowl until desired color) for decorating

In a large bowl, combine water, yeast and honey.  Allow to sit for a few minutes (3-5) or until yeast starts to bubble and looks creamy.  Beat in eggs, and melted butter.  Once thoroughly combined, stir in salt and flour, one cup at a time, until dough is thick enough to turn out onto a floured surface.  Knead, continuing to add flour as needed, until dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticky (about five minutes).   Return to bowl, cover with a clean, damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hours).

Meanwhile, stir together all filling ingredients except for butter.  Set aside until ready to assemble.

After dough has risen, punch down and turn out onto floured surface again.  Divide dough into two equal sized chunks and roll out on a floured surface into a big rectangle (about 9x13).  Spread half of softened butter onto each rectangle.  Then, sprinkle half of filling mixture onto each rectangle of dough (kids like to help with this part a lot).  Roll lengthwise (you want long and skinny, not short and fat), jelly-roll style until you have a long tube of dough (also at this point, you can use this to make cinnamon rolls, just use a piece of string or dental floss to cut into rounds and place in a greased baking dish).  Shape into a circle or oval, pressing ends together.  Transfer to a lightly greased cookie sheet or pizza pan, cover and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45-minutes to an hour). 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until browned on the outside. If hiding a trinket or nut in the cake, cut a small slit in the side of the baked cake (on the inside of the ring) and push the prize into the cake so that it is hidden from view.

In a small bowl, mix together powdered sugar and vanilla. Add milk gradually, stirring until smooth and pourable.  Drizzle frosting over warm cake.  Immediately sprinkle with colored sugars, alternating each color. 
Note: If you're looking for a real shortcut, thaw out frozen, packaged bread dough and use as above or press together crescent rolls (you'll need 12) in a circle (long, skinny points toward the middle so it ends up looking like a bunch of slices of pizza), fill and fold the points back up and over the filling, tucking the points underneath the ring.  A great step by step tutorial: http://homecooking.about.com/od/cakerecipes/ss/kingcakesbs.htm 

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