I am so happy with how this turned out! Yes, it’s a little lopsided, but I don’t care. I am not at all experienced with making breads (my only previous sojourns into yeast bread baking were making rolls this past Thanksgiving and Christmas), so I thought I would screw this up but it turned out so much better than I thought. And the best part is that it tastes exactly how I remember it. I was worried I’d go to all the trouble of making a King Cake and it wouldn’t taste right, but this recipe is totally authentic. And I got to use my new KitchenAid Stand Mixer in the process. I am so in love with that thing already. All I want to do is bake now!
A little history:
Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, AKA Fat Tuesday, which is a celebration of excess before Ash Wednesday when Lent starts (when you’re supposed to deny yourself). It starts on January 6th, which is Epiphany, the day the three kings arrived to see Jesus, which is where the name comes from. King Cakes also have a small plastic baby inside (though apparently you can use a coin or bean instead). When I lived on the Gulf Coast, it was traditional at many places to have a King Cake party every week up until Mardi Gras and the person who found the baby had to bring the next week’s King Cake. I used to have a big collection of all the babies I had found, but I can’t find them anymore!
The cake is more like a cinnamon roll than an actual cake. I’ve had variations that did have cinnamon, but this recipe only has nutmeg. You can also get them filled with things like cream cheese, chocolate, lemon, apple, cherry, etc. Personally, I’m not a fan of filled King Cakes, I think they are rich enough without all that. The cake is topped with glaze and sprinkled with colored sugar in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of green (faith), purple (justice), and yellow/gold (power).
Things I learned in the process:
- This got BIG. I know, I know…the power of yeast. But I haven’t done this enough to be able to gauge how big something is going to get. I had to bake it on my super big 14×16 baking sheet because it wouldn’t fit on the normal sized ones. Next time, I will probably divide up the dough and make two smaller cakes instead of one gigantor.
- Braiding dough is hard. And I didn’t do a very good job of it. But many of the king cakes I remember eating were braided, so I wanted to do that too, even though the recipe just said to shape it into an oval. Making it into an oval is definitely the easier option, but I think you get a more interesting looking cake if you braid it (even if it’s totally lopsided like mine).
- I couldn’t find colored sugar at the grocery store, so I just made some myself. It was really easy. Fill a plastic bag with about 1/4 cup of sugar, and add in 1-3 drops (depending on how dark you want it – I should have made mine darker) of food coloring. Seal the bag and then rub all the sugar together between your hands until the food coloring coats all the sugar.
Update: I decided to make a filled version of this King Cake recipe. Check out these Lemon and Cream Cheese-filled King Cakes.
Dessert | Servings: 1 very large or 2 smaller king cakes
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 to 5 1/2 cups sifted flour (I started with 4 1/2 and added more)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
- 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
- 3 eggs
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tbsp. milk
- A tiny doll or coin (optional)
- 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 1/4 cup lemon juice, strained
- 3 to 5 tbsp. water
- Food coloring: purple (you can do two drops of red, one of blue), green, and yellow
- 3/4 cup sugar
- Combine yeast and the warm water.
- Combine flour, sugar, nutmeg and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir in lemon peel. Make a well in center and add yeast and water mixture, along with milk. Lightly beat the 3 eggs and 4 egg yolks; add to liquid mixture. With a large wooden spoon, gradually incorporate dry ingredients into liquids in the center well.
- Beat in 1/2 cup of the butter and continue beating until dough forms ball (I needed to add about 1/2 – 3/4 cup of flour to get the dough to form a ball). Use a food processor or dough hook for beating, if desired.
- Place ball on floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, incorporating more flour as necessary, a little at a time.
- Butter the inside of a large bowl with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Place dough in bowl and turn so the entire surface will be buttered. Cover bowl and set aside for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.
- Brush a large baking sheet with remaining butter. Punch dough down on lightly floured surface. Knead, then pat and shape dough into a cylinder about 14 inches long. Alternately, you can divide the dough into three 14 inch long cylinders and braid it together. Place on baking sheet and form into a ring. Press coin or doll well into dough so that it doesn’t show. Set aside again to rise for about 45 to 60 minutes.
- When ready to bake, beat together one egg and 1 tbsp. of milk and brush the top and sides of the ring. Bake in middle of oven at 375 degrees (F) for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown (I only needed 20 minutes). Slide cake onto wire rack to cool.
Combine the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of water in a deep bowl; stir until the icing smooth. If too stiff to spread, beat in 1 teaspoon water at a time, until desired consistency is reached. It should be thin enough to run slowly down the sides of the cake. Spread the icing over the top of the cake, letting it to run down the sides.
- Sprinkle the colored sugars over the icing immediately, forming a row of purple, yellow, and green strips, on both sides of the ring.