Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fat Tuesday – King Cake

Fat Tuesday came and went recently.  To celebrate I baked up some King Cake

Finished King Cake

I grew accustomed to having King Cake every Fat Tuesday while living in Mississippi and Florida growing up.  There are a few stores in New Orleans where you can order from online and have a King Cake shipped to you.  However, last year I decided to break that tradition and make my own.

Here is the recipe I ended up using:

Yes I know, Emeril, ewww, but bear with it.  It’s a little lemony, but quite tasty.  For the past few years I’ve stuck to the recipe, next year I’ll alter it some to reduce the lemon and change it up a bit.

Contrary to the name, King Cake is in fact, not a cake.  At least not in the traditional sense.  King Cake is really more of a enriched bread, similar to brioche, covered in icing and colored sugars.

Enough background, let’s get to it.

Mis en place

Here’s my mis en place.  This is everything that goes into the cake.  Well, not the hand soap in the background.


The Trinket

Here is the trinket for the cake.  By tradition, it’s a small plastic baby.  They don’t always look so freaky, but there isn’t much to choose from here in Seattle.


Milk, water, and sugar

The warmed milk and water water mixed with some sugar.  This will be to help bloom the yeast.  This is done per recipe, but as you’ll see later I’m using instant yeast rather than active dry, so in future incarnations, I’ll be omitting this step as it isn’t needed.


Melted butter

Getting more of my wet ingredients ready – some melted butter sitting out to cool slightly.


Instant yeast

Here’s my canister of instant yeast.  I keep the canister in the freezer so that the yeast will keep for a longer period of time.


Blooming the yeast

Adding the yeast to the milk, water, and sugar mixture to bloom it.  I’m using a teaspoon here of instant yeast, which is roughly equivalent to a packet of active dry yeast.  Again, since it’s instant yeast I could omit this step and just add the yeast to the dry ingredients.


"Cup" of flour

A cup of flour.  I’m actually quite a lazy baker and don’t tend to measure very accurately.  You’ll see that the flour isn’t leveled and actually looks a little less than a cup here.  That’s because I didn’t sift the flour and it’s compacted quite a bit in the measuring cup, so I’ve adjusted it down.  This is one of the downsides of the recipe I’m using, it’s using volume metrics rather than weight.  Flour is notoriously bad to measure by volume.


Flour and sugar

The flour and sugar, nothings been mixed yet.


About the grate the lemonGrated lemonLemon rind

Grating the lemon rind.  One large lemon yields enough rind for two king cakes.


Dry ingredients

The dry ingredients.  There’s quite a bit of nutmeg in the recipe.  I cheated and used pre-ground nutmeg, and the lack of nutmeg flavor in the end showed.


 Mixed dry ingredients

Mixing up the dry ingredients to get everything thoroughly combined before adding the wet.


5 Egg yolksEgg yolks

I separated the egg yolks and set them aside.


Slightly beaten egg yolks

I beat the egg yolks slightly before adding to the dry ingredients.  Fresh eggs certainly make a difference.  They combine so much easier with no skin that you have to work at.


Bloomed yeast

Here’s the bloomed yeast.  I’ve probably let it go a little too long here, but it is still good.


Eveyone in the bowl

Everybody get in the bowl.  Butter, eggs, yeast mixture all get put in the bowl.



Beating the ingredients, just until they combine and stick together.  You may need to add some additional flour depending on the humidity and the accuracy of your measurements.


Wet dough

Close up of the wet dough at the point where everything comes together.


Dough hook

Now it’s time to switch to the dough hook.  My stand mixer comes with a spiral hook, but any dough hook will do.  The point here is to knead the dough and develop gluten.  You’ll notice that my dough here is still rather wet, and I actually had to work in about another half a cup of flour to get the dough to not be sticky any more.


Windowpane test

The “windowpane test”.  You can tell if your dough is adequately kneaded by taking a small piece and stretching it out like a pizza dough.  If the dough stretches and becomes translucent, then it’s ready to go.  If the dough tears, then you have to knead it some more.  Unfortunately no one tells you how thin it should be before tearing.  Of course any dough, will tear eventually if you stretch it far enough.  The dough here was adequate, but could have probably done with more kneading.



Shape the dough into a ball, making sure to stretch the “skin” of the dough.


Greased bowl

Into a greased bowl, I use a canola spray as it can get nice coverage and has very little taste.  Roll the dough around a bit to make sure all the sides are covered.



Here’s a close up of the dough ball.  You can see some of the flecks of nutmeg as well as how the skin of the dough is stretched out.


Proofed dough

Here’s the dough after proofing.  You can see that it rose a bit and “
roughly doubled in size.  “Doubled” in size is pretty subjective unless you have some specialized equipment.  I just like to eyeball it.


Baking sheets

My baking sheets.  These are two AirBake cookie sheets with Silpats.  I find the combination of the two works really well.  It never requires greasing and helps keep the bottom of whatever your baking from burning.  Of course, it won’t yield a nice hard crust on the bottom, but you don’t really want that in a King cake anyway.


Floured surface

Flouring my cutting board to get ready to work the dough.


Punching down the dough

“Punching down” the dough, doesn’t really mean punch.  You just want to work out the large air bubbles.  One way to do that is what I did here.  I just put my down down and flattened it out with my finger tips. 


Shaped dough

Here’s my shaped dough.  I decided to not braid the dough as I did last year.  It is less effort this way, but doesn’t turn out as pretty.  I also was pretty lazy about even the shaping that I did do this year.  As you can see it looks pretty rough and uneven.


Dough on edge

Here’s the dough on edge.  You can see more of my mistakes here.  You can clearly see the wrinkles and creases in the dough.  Turns out that I added too much flour when I was punching down the dough and the dough got too dry to properly adhere to itself again.


Adding the baby

Adding the baby to the dough.  He shouldn’t actually go here like this, you want him fully underneath the dough and not on the side.  But, that wouldn’t allow me to get a good picture now would it?

At this point I let the dough rise again and then bake it.


Fully baked

The results of the baking process.  Once again, my poorly shaped dough rears it’s ugly head.  You can see the dough split on the top unevenly and the join of the two ends (front) is rather ugly.  Fortunately this bread is going to get iced and then covered in sugar.


Powdered sugar

Preparing the icing.  Here’s the powdered sugar for the icing.


Lemon juice

Here’s the lemon juice for the icing.  The next few steps need to take place quickly, so there are no pictures as I was self photographing the process.

Once the icing is mixed, spoon it over the cake.  Then immediately sprinkle on the colored sugars.  If you wait even a minute then the icing will dry and the sugars won’t adhere properly.


Finished cake

The fully iced and sugared cake ready to be eaten.  Will you get the baby?

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