Most foodies have some sort of a culinary bucket list, one that is comprised of meals at their dream restaurants, ingredients that they want to try, and recipes that they want to attempt. So what if dinner at the French Laundry costs them an entire week’s salary? It’s still probably on every single list. And in our minds, the price is totally justified because, well, because it’s The French Laundry for Pete’s sake! I mean, when else will you be served nineteen courses, each one more impressive than the next, and most of which contain several ounces of truffles or gold leaf or a combination of the two? If you calculate the cost per course, then it’s really not so steep….right?
Other items on these tasty to-do lists might include adventurous foods to try, a la Anthony Bourdain. Actually, he’d probably take one look at my list, crumble it up, and light it with his cigarette, seeing as my “adventurous” foods are probably the ones that he devours on a daily basis. Sometimes these experiences create new favorites….other times, not so much. I don’t recommend sea urchin. I’ll just leave it at that.
Recipes that we want to attempt might include the famed Italian Timpano from the foodie flick Big Night, a four-foot tall croquembouche tower surrounded by spun sugar, or even the perfect Coq au Vin. Some might be on the list for their Mt. Everest-like level of difficulty, while others are there “just because.” One such item that has been waiting patiently on my list is a traditional Mardi Gras King Cake. For the past three years of writing this blog, I have intended to create one of these cakes for a Mardi Gras-themed post, but every year the holiday manages to sneak up on me, and my opportunity is gone. It must be all of that culinary hubbub associated with the Super Bowl that leaves poor, unappreciated Mardi Gras without a blog post to call its own.
BUT NOT THIS YEAR!!! Geaux Saints!! Who dat foodie posting a combined Super Bowl/Mardi Gras recipe? (Yeah, it’s me.)
Disclaimer: Being a Patriots fan, I’m actually impartial to the outcome of the game, but the New Orleans tie-in was perfectly timed for this post, so I snagged the opportunity.
I was originally going to attempt to be extra clever and creative with this post by taking the concept of a King Cake and turning it into something else, such as “King Cake Eclairs.” Then I decided that some foods are just not meant to be messed with, especially ones that hail from a city as steeped in tradition as New Orleans. I mean, I wouldn’t want some strange voodoo hex to be placed upon me as a result of a “New and Improved King CUP-Cakes!!” post. No, I’ll just stick with the original, thank you very much.
That said, I did throw in a few culinary twists and turns that still maintained the integrity of the time-honored King Cake while, as Paula Abdul would say, making it my own. I decided to perk up the dough by adding orange zest, cinnamon, and the under-appreciated spice cardamom. Rather than coat the cake with a flavorless powdered sugar glaze, I opted for an easy tart lemon option, which made a world of difference in the flavor department. Perhaps you can serve this at your Big Game party for a little half time treat. Whoever gets the slice with the almond in it gets to clean up afterward. Laissez les bons temps rouler! Here are a few extra tips for making this mah-velous Mardi Gras treat:
- The dough can be started one day in advance. Once the dough has risen the initial hour, it can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours, covered.
- The cake is definitely best eaten within one day of preparation, ideally the same day that it is prepared. Be sure to keep it tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature to prevent it from drying out.
- Feel free to play around with the filling recipe, depending on what you have on hand. Finely chopped almonds or pecans, candied citron, dried cranberries or cherries, and raisins are all good options.
- Instead of braiding the dough, you can also roll it up jelly-roll style. After rolling the dough to the 24X10-inch rectangle, brush it with the melted butter and sprinkle the filling on top. Tightly roll the dough and then bring the ends of the roll together, pinching to seal.
Lemon-Glazed King Cake
Makes one cake (12-16 servings)
For the dough
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
6 ounces butter, softened
4 large eggs
Zest from one orange
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the filling
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 whole almond or large dried bean
For the glaze
2 large egg whites
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Green, yellow/gold, and purple decorative sugars
Prepare the dough: In a small saucepan, heat the milk to about 110F degrees. Pour the milk into a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the surface. Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar and stir to combine. Set the mixture aside until the yeast is foamy, 10 minutes.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the remaining sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the yeast mixture and mix for 1 minute. Add an egg and mix thoroughly; follow with a third of the flour. Repeat with the remaining eggs and flour. Add the orange zest, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt, and continue to mix on low speed for 7-8 minutes, until the dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic, and it starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too soft, add up to 1/2 cup of flour.
Scrape the dough from the bowl and lightly knead to form into a ball. Butter or oil the inside of a medium size bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, turning to coat with the butter. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.
When the dough has risen, turn it out of the bowl, punch it down, and knead it lightly to form a ball. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Form the cake: Flour a clean work surface. Roll the dough into a 10 by 20-inch rectangle, keeping the thickness consistent throughout. Cut the dough lengthwise into 3 strips. Paint each strip of the dough with the melted butter, leaving a 1/2-inch border clean along the length of each strip. Reserve any leftover butter. Sprinkle the strips with the brown sugar and cinnamon.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Fold each strip over lengthwise toward the clean edges to enclose the cinnamon sugar, and pinch the seam to seal the dough closed. Snugly braid the three pieces together. Transfer the braid to the baking sheet and form the braid into a wreath, pressing the ends together. Cover the wreath with a clean towel and set aside to rise for 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
Brush the cake with the reserved melted butter and bake for 18 minutes, until golden brown. Cover the cake loosely with foil and continue to bake for 20-25 minutes more, until baked through. Keep the cake on the baking sheet and allow to cool completely. After the cake has cooled, carefully tuck the almond into the underside of the cake.
Prepare the glaze: Place the egg whites and the confectioner’s sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until combined. Add the corn syrup, vanilla, and lemon juice, and continue to mix until smooth, adding more lemon juice if necessary to achieve your desired glaze consistency.
Drizzle the glaze over the cake, spreading with an offset spatula to coat. Cover with alternating colored sugars, and allow to set before serving.