Even though I haven’t lived anywhere that celebrates Mardi Gras for a very long time, I grew up on the Gulf Coast and still have lots of fond memories of going to the parade every year. And since my birthday is in late February, Mardi Gras has fallen on or near the same day—the date changes every year, along with Easter—a bunch of times so I would usually have some kind of Mardi Gras themed party and we’d order a King Cake instead a normal birthday cake. This year, Mardi Gras happens to be next Tuesday, the day after my birthday, so I thought it would be fun to have a King Cake again.
The King Cakes I’ve made in the past have always been huge, not only hard to handle and store but they’d wind up drying out before we could finish eating them. So this time, rather than making one giant cake I decided to make small personal-size cakes. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to full size again! This recipe makes four 6-inch King Cakes which are adorable and easy to carry and store. I think they’d make great Mardi Gras gifts for friends or coworkers!
I posted a King Cake recipe 3 years ago (that post has more info on the history of Mardi Gras and King Cakes if you’re interested) but I wanted to try a filled version this time. I said in that post that I didn’t like filled King Cakes which is still true. This isn’t really what I’d call a “traditional” filled cake but I like it much better. The traditional ones I remember had a big ol’ gelatinous glob of cream cheese and/or fruit pie filling in the middle and it was never very appetizing to me. For my version of a filled King Cake, I spread a layer of a cream cheese mixture (basically cheesecake) on top of the dough and then on top of that I spread a layer of sweet lemon curd (if you’ve never had it before, it’s sort of like lemon jelly). Then I rolled the dough up jellyroll-style to make a delicious lemony-cream cheese swirl in the cake.
I’ve been obsessed with citrus lately so this King Cake has lots of lemon. Beside the lemon curd, it also has lemon zest mixed in and it’s topped with a lemon glaze. King Cakes have a texture more like a bread than a cake so all the extra flour balances out the lemon flavor making it more subtle. It gives each bite a nice pop of freshness rather than being overly tart.
There’s really no need to limit this cake to Mardi Gras. If you remove the multi-colored sugar topping you have a lightly-sweetened cinnamon bun-like coffee cake that can be eaten for breakfast or brunch. I realize the long list of ingredients and directions may look intimidating, but I promise it’s not hard! Most of the steps only take minutes and it’s all basic stuff that anyone can do (or that your mixer does for you). And you won’t need to get up at the crack of dawn since the recipe can be made a day or two before serving. In fact, the King Cake tastes best if you let it sit overnight so I recommend making it ahead of time. Just hold off on glazing it until right before serving; it will look and taste better that way. In all, there’s less than an hour of hands-on time and if you have a dough hook for your mixer, you don’t even have to knead anything.
As I was making this recipe I realized there are a lot of egg yolks in here. Not only in the cake, but in the fillings as well. Don’t throw the egg whites away! You can freeze them to use later. In the next week or two, I’ll have a new recipe that uses up those egg whites but in the meantime you might want to check out this Frozen Raspberry Pie or this Chocolate Angel Food Cake. Both recipes are very worthy (and healthier) ways to use up those extra whites.
Lemon and Cream Cheese-filled King Cake
Breakfast, Dessert | Yield: 4 small 6-inch king cakes (or 2 medium or 1 very large). About 16 servings.
Prep time: 3 hours | Cook time: 25 min | Total time: 3 hour 30 min
- 1/2 cup warm water, about 105 to 115 degrees
- 2 envelopes active dry yeast
- 4 1/2 cups flour, plus more for kneading
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. grated lemon peel
- 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
- 3 eggs
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. butter, softened
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tbsp. milk
- 4 tiny dolls or dried beans (optional)
Lemon Curd filling
from David Lebovitz
- 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 large eggs
- Pinch of salt
- 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed
Cream Cheese filling
from Myriam Guidroz
- 16 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup flour
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice, strained
- 3 to 5 tbsp. water
- Food coloring: purple (two drops of red, one of blue), green, and yellow
- 3/4 cup sugar, divided
- Add warm water to small bowl and stir in yeast. Let sit for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, sift together flour, sugar, nutmeg and salt in a large mixer bowl. Stir in lemon peel. Make a well in center and add the yeast mixture along with the warm milk. Lightly beat together 3 eggs and 4 egg yolks and add to the liquid mixture. With a large wooden spoon, gradually incorporate the dry ingredients into the liquids in the center well.
- Transfer to your mixer, beat in butter and continue beating, slowly adding about 1/2 cup of flour, until the dough forms a ball. Switch to a dough hook to continue beating until smooth and elastic, adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup flour as necessary, about 2-4 minutes more. Alternately, transfer ball of dough to a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, incorporating more flour as necessary, about 5-8 minutes more.
- Butter the inside of a large bowl with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Place the dough in bowl and turn so the entire surface will be buttered. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on top of the bowl and set in a warm spot for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk.
- While the dough rises make your fillings, starting with the lemon curd (this can be made ahead of time, it will keep in the fridge for 1 week): Place a mesh strainer over a medium bowl and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, eggs, and salt. Add the butter cubes and set the pan over low heat, whisking constantly until the butter is melted.
- Increase the heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to become jelly-like. You’ll now it’s done when you lift the whisk and the mixture holds its shape when it falls back into the saucepan from the whisk. Immediately press the curd through the strainer. Transfer to the fridge to cool.
- Now make the cream cheese filling: Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, egg yolks and vanilla until smooth and fluffy. Store in the fridge until ready to use.
Brush one or two large baking sheets with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Set aside. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 equal pieces (or less if you want larger cakes). Take one piece and shape into a square, roll it out into a 1/4-inch thick rectangle, about 6×11-inches.
- Scoop a scant 1/2 cup of the cream cheese mixture and spread it evenly on top of the dough, leaving 1/2-inch of space around the edges. Scoop a scant 1/4 cup of the lemon curd and spread it on top of the cream cheese. If you want to be traditional, press a tiny doll or dried bean into the dough. (But make sure to warn anyone you’re serving that it’s in there!)
- Roll the dough up, jellyroll-style, starting from the long edge. Pinch together the dough at the end so that it’s sealed well and the filling isn’t coming out. You should end up with 11-inch long cylinder. Make sure the seam is on the bottom and form the dough into a ring, pinching the ends together until sealed. Transfer to a baking sheet and repeat with the other pieces of dough. Set aside to rise for about an hour. They won’t quite double in size, but they should be noticeably puffed up.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F). Beat together one egg and 1 tablespoon of milk and brush the top and sides of the rings. Bake in middle of oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Slide the cakes onto wire racks to cool completely. Let sit for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving.
- Once the cakes are cool, combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of water in a deep bowl and stir until smooth. Add more water a little at a time, until the glaze is a thinner, pourable consistency. Spread the icing over the top of the cakes, letting it to run down the sides.
- Sprinkle the colored sugars over the icing immediately, making rows of purple, yellow, and green stripes.
Serve at room temperature along with milk or coffee. Store in tightly wrapped plastic or foil. These cakes should be fine in a cool spot in your kitchen for about day, but for any longer place them in the fridge or freezer. Best within 2-3 days.