Happy Fat Tuesday! Today marks the last day of the Carnival season (which begins on Twelfth Night [January 6th; epiphany]) and continues to the beginning of lent. In New Orleans the last day of Mardis Gras is traditionally celebrated with an obscenely rich pastry known as King Cake. Even if you aren't in New Orleans, you can still celebrate the season by making your own.
King Cake is more of a sweet yeast bread than a cake. In fact the yeast dough is really a rich brioche dough scented with citrus peel, nutmeg and cinnamon. King cakes are sometimes filled and sometimes not, depending on what you prefer. Fillings range from sweetened cream cheese to fruit pie filling to pralined pecans. The entire cake is traditionally glazed and decorated with sugar tinted in the traditional mardi gras colors: green (faith), gold (power) and purple (justice).
The recipe I have always used comes from renowned New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse. I think it is probably the perfect King cake. It is moist and airy and buttery and is enrobed in a citrus glaze. I like to add a praline filling to my variation of Emeril's excellent cake.
I know in some circles it is absolute sacrilege to make brioche dough any other way but by hand, but I have always used my Kitchen Aid stand mixer fitted with the dough hook to perform the task with wonderful results. I'm such a renegade...
This makes a BIG cake. I usually prepare it the day before Fat Tuesday and bring it in to work to feed my grateful hungry colleagues because I think there is nothing like seeding a little positive karma into the work environment before we enter 40 days of self-deprivation and pennance!
1/2 cup warm water
2 packages dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
4-5 cups bread flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 cup warm milk
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature and very soft 2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 Tbsp water
Praline filling (recipe follows)
Citrus Glaze (recipe follows)
green, gold and purple tinted sugar
In the work bowl of a stand mixer dissolve 2 tsp sugar in 1/2 cup warm water. Sprinkle yeast over water and allow to proof for 10 minutes until foamy.
Add 3-4 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, nutmeg, salt, orange zest, milk and egg yolks to the bowl. Using the dough hook, mix everything together on low speed until a smooth and sticky dough is formed (about 7-8 minutes).
With the machine running, add the softened butter, 1 Tbsp at a time slowly and gently incorporating the butter into the dough. Do not increase the speed of the mixer as this will generate too much heat and will melt the butter. Melted butter = Disaster. Be patient.
Once the butter in incorporated you will have a smooth and extremely sticky dough that is lightly glossy. Sprinkle 1 cup additional flour onto a work surface and turn out the dough onto the surface. Knead dough by hand, incorporating the additional flour into the dough until it is much less sticky, and very smooth.
Place the doughinto a large, well-buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise for 2 hours until doubled in bulk.
Ounch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently roll the dough into a 16 x 20 inch rectangle. Sprinkle ground cinnamon over the dough and spread evenly with your hands.
Along one long side of the dough, about an inch from the edge, spoon the praline filling. Roll the dough up, jelly-roll style, encasing the praline filling.
On a baking sheet lined with parchment, from the dough into a large ring, gently pinching together the two ends. Cover with a dry kitchen towel and allow to rise for 1-2 hurs until doubled in bulk.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Combine egg yolk and water for egg glaze and brush onto dough. Bake for 30 minutes until a deep mahogany color.
Brushed with egg glaze and ready for the oven...
...and fresh from the oven... let this cool for one hour before glazing!
Using parchment paper, pull cake onto a wire rack and allow to cool for 1 hour before glazing and decorating.
1 cup chopped pecans
4 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Combine everythng in a bowl and mix well.
2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
2 Tbsp water
Combine everything in a medium sized bowl. Spread over cooled cake.