Many Americans are familiar with the Louisiana-style king cake, a tradition brought over from France nearly 150 years ago.
King cake is made from brioche bread dough, swirled with cinnamon, twisted into a ring, and decorated with icing and jewel-colored sprinkles — lots and lots of sprinkles. The colors aren’t random: green symbolizes faith; purple stands for power; and gold represents justice.
The cakes, which have become synonymous with Mardi Gras, are traditionally found from Epiphany (Jan. 6) through Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday).
1 cup whole milk warmed to 110 F
4¼ teaspoons (2 packets) active dry yeast
6 to 6½ cups (800-845 grams) bread flour, separated
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature (save the wrappers)
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½ cup (115 grams) granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1¼ cup, packed brown sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 cups powdered sugar sifted
3 tablespoons light corn syrup or honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Colored sanding sugar or sprinkles: purple, gold and green
Plastic baby or dried bean
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the warm milk, yeast, 2 cups (about 300 grams) of the bread flour, and the tablespoon (12 grams) of sugar.
Stir the sponge with a rubber spatula until it forms a thick paste. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or a piece of plastic wrap.
2. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free area in the kitchen for 30 minutes. The sponge will begin fermenting and rising during this period.
After 30 minutes, you can continue with the making of the bread or transfer the starter to a jar and refrigerate it for 24 hours.
3. Add the remaining sugar and the butter to the bowl of your stand mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment) or to a large mixing bowl if you’re using an electric hand mixer. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy on medium speed, about 4½ minutes. Scrape down the bowl and the paddle twice during the creaming process to ensure the mixture is creamed evenly.
4. Add all of the eggs to the bowl and blend them into the sugar-butter mixture for 4 minutes at low speed. Scrape down the paddle and bowl twice during this step. The mixture will resemble curdled cream at this point.
5. Add all of the room temperature sponge to the bowl. Blend the sponge into the egg-butter mixture on low speed until the mixture looks smooth and thick, like pancake batter, about 2 minutes.
6. Scrape down the bowl and paddle, then switch to the dough hook. Add the ground cardamom, kosher salt, and 3 cups of bread flour to the bowl. Or, if you’re kneading by hand, place the 3 cups of flour onto a clean countertop and scrape the dough mixture into the center of the flour. Knead the dough on second speed (or with your hands) for 2 minutes.
7. Gradually add the remaining 1 to 1½ cups of bread flour, as needed. Humidity will determine if you use all, some, or more than the remaining quantity of flour. If the dough is super-sticky, you need to add more flour. If you are kneading the dough in the mixer, pay attention to how it is behaving at the bottom of the bowl. A dough that is too wet will cling to the bottom of the bowl instead of wrapping itself around the dough hook. If yours is doing that, add more flour. On the other hand, if the dough looks dry or really stiff, sprinkle a tablespoon of water in there to moisten it. It’s better to add too little flour than to overdo it and try to bring it back, so be conservative. Knead the dough for a total of 10 minutes. When finished, the dough will feel supple, soft, and feel like it wants to stick to your hands but won’t when you release it.
8. Once the dough is mixed, remove it from the bowl. Grease the bowl using the butter wrappers you saved earlier. Return the dough to the bowl and flip it over. This step oils the surface of the dough and helps prevent skin from forming on its surface. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free area of your kitchen for 1 hour.
9. After the dough has doubled in size, punch down the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place the bowl in the refrigerator. Chill the dough for 3 hours or overnight to make it firm, and therefore easier, to handle.
Prepare the cinnamon-sugar filling
10. In a small mixing bowl and using a hand mixer, beat the brown sugar, butter and cinnamon together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes.
11. Allow the dough to warm to slightly colder than room temperature on the countertop. Taking the chill off of it will help it roll out easier.
12. Use a knife or bench scraper to divide the dough into two equal pieces. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface. A rectangle that measures about 30-by-12-inches is ideal.
13. Spread half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture in a thin layer onto the dough’s surface, leaving a one-inch margin on one of the long sides. Loosely roll the dough, beginning on the sugar-covered side, towards the side that has the uncovered margin.
14. Once the log is rolled, pinch the dough’s edge to its body to seal it. Roll the log between your hands and the counter to stretch it out to about 32 inches. Now, roll the log so the seam is on the bottom and set it out of the way. Repeat with the second half of the dough.
15. Place the two dough logs perpendicular to one another on a silicone baking mat or parchment paper lined sheet pan. Pinch together the ends of the two rolls to join them. Carefully twist the two rolls of dough together until you get to the opposite ends. Form the twisted rope into an oval overlapping the ends.
16. Cover the wreath with a clean kitchen towel and allow it to rise for 30 minutes in a warm area of your kitchen.
17. Preheat oven to 350 F.
18. Whisk together the egg yolk and water in a small mixing bowl. After the dough has risen, brush egg wash where the ends meet and pinch them together tightly to seal the ring (they will try to spread apart when baking if not twisted and pinched together well). Brush the rest of the dough with the egg wash.
19. Bake the loaf for 30 to 35 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Rotate your pan halfway through baking to ensure it browns evenly.
20. In a mixing bowl, combine the powdered sugar, corn syrup (or honey) and vanilla extract. Add hot water, a tablespoon at a time, to thin the glaze to the desired consistency.
21. Once the king cake is baked, remove the pan from the oven and allow the bread to cool completely.
22. Spoon the glaze onto the surface of the king cake.
23. Decorate with a generous amount of colored sanding sugar or sprinkles.
Adapted from senseandedibility.com
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