…flamboyant, soaked in pearly icing and generously sprinkled with green, violet, and gold crystals…
Honestly, the very first time I ever saw a king cake was when I was stocking them at work after the Christmas season. I had asked by boss, “What the hell is that?” The cake looked more like a giant loaf of braided bread. It was flamboyant, soaked in pearly icing and generously sprinkled with green, violet, and gold crystals. The boxed cake came with matching beads and a plastic baby. “It’s a King Cake for Mardi Gras!” my boss said, “and it’s f*cking delicious!”
(Yeah… we had some potty mouths at work. Is there a difference between bakers, cooks, and sailors?)
Being from the North, I wasn’t privy to the local obsessions with regional Southern foods and desserts. This ignorance was magnified by my New York City upbringing where nearly every food was available at my leisure and sometimes done better than at its place of origin. But some things just aren’t better in New York; this is because New York doesn’t always have the history and cultural significance of a food that can get some of us excited in a nostalgic, happy, and proud way.
After trying king cake for the first time, I honestly wasn’t WOWED. It was one of the prepackaged box brands we sold in tower high stacks at my store. It tasted good, but the sickeningly sweet filling and tooth numbing icing had me wondering if I had become diabetic overnight. It took me 5 years after that experience before I tasted king cake again. This time it was homemade, just sweet enough for my mouth to be comfortable, raging in nutmeg and lemon flavors with a punch of cinnamon―my tongue was as happy and colorful as the parade!
This time it was homemade, just sweet enough for my mouth to be comfortable and raging in nutmeg and lemon flavors with a punch of cinnamon…
I quickly learned that king cake is an essential culinary centerpiece to the entire Carnival season of Louisiana, pockets of Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and pretty much anywhere along the Gulf Coast. Each region celebrates Mardi Gras differently, but the most extravagant, colorful, loud, and exhilarating celebration is in New Orleans where the celebration is also called “the greatest free party on earth”.
If you crave a decadent king cake and live nowhere near the Gulf Coast, Randazzo’s Camellia City Bakery, Haydel’s Bakery, and Breads on Oak are excellent places to start because you can have them shipped to anywhere in the United States. The only downside is that the cost for these quality cakes will vary between $50 and $80 depending on the fillings you prefer.
Unfortunately, many people opt for the hit or miss prepackaged king cakes at supermarkets that cost between $7 and $12―these cakes aren’t inherently bad, but are often juiced up with cheap fillers and extra, extra, extra sugar. They also don’t taste as much like a traditional king cake.
Unless you have one made in Louisiana where baking king cakes is an art form (and a matter of life and death), you’re best tackling the tasty dessert at home. The ingredients will run you approximately $20, but you’ll have a wholesome, rich, and gorgeous king cake as your party showstopper.
For those of you who prefer to get down and dirty in the kitchen, roll out sticky dough, and sweep up explosions of flour, I present to you this recipe for a brioche style raspberry cream cheese king cake. It is inspired by the traditional homemade and bakery style king cakes of Louisiana, as well as my favorite flavor: raspberry cream cheese.
The flavors are well balanced with delicious, spiced cream cheese and fresh raspberry swirled into buttery, soft dough. The cake has extra zest with a lemon based icing. This cake makes your house smell heavenly as it bakes. For the best taste, eat it fresh within an hour after you make it. The dough will be plush, the filling warm, and the crystal sprinkles full of crunch.
Raspberry Cream Cheese King Cake
For The Dough
- 1 stick (113g) unsalted butter room temperature
- 3/4 cup (175ml) whole milk room temperature
- 2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk save the egg white for glazing
- 4 cups (520g) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (60g) granulated sugar
- 3 tsp (15g) instant yeast
- 1 1/4 tsp (8g) sea salt
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- zest of 1 lemon
For Cream Cheese Filling
- 8 oz (227g) cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/4 cup (60g) cane sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
For The Raspberry Filling
- 7 oz (200g) raspberry preserves
- 6 oz (170) fresh raspberries
For The Icing
- 1 cup (100g) powdered sugar
- juice of a whole lemon
- 1 tbsp (15g) melted butter
For The Garnish
- Green, purple, and gold glitter sprinkles or crystallized sugar
Make The Dough
In a bread machine with a dough setting or a large mixing bowl with a hook attachment, mix all of the dough ingredients until a smooth, slightly sticky ball of dough forms. Alternatively, you can mix the dough with a oiled wooden spoon and your hands. Just be aware that the dough will be sticky. Do not add additional flour.
Oil a separate clean bowl with approximately 3 tbsp of vegetable oil and place the ball of dough inside. Coat the top of the dough with a little more oil and place a sheet of plastic wrap on top. Allow the dough to proof overnight in your refrigerator.
The next day, take the dough out of the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.
Generously flour a clean surface and place the ball of dough on top. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough until you have a rectangle that is 15”x20”.
Make The Cream Cheese and Raspberry Filling
In a medium mixing bowl, cream together the cream cheese filling ingredients until smooth. Evenly spread the filling all over the dough. Leave about an inch of seam allowance.
Next, evenly layer the raspberry jam over the cream cheese. Mash the fresh raspberries in another bowl and spread them evenly over the jam and cream cheese.
Shape The Cake
Using floured hands and starting from the longest side of the dough, roll the dough into a log and seal the seams.
Alternatively, you can cut the dough lengthwise and roll each section separately. Twist the two rolls together to create an attractive, twisted bread.
Place the dough on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper with the seams facing down. Connect the ends of your cake, creating a ring. It is okay if it does not look perfect; the icing will cover any imperfections. Place a glass cup in the middle to prevent the inside from touching.
Coat the top of the cake with cooking spray or vegetable oil and cover it loosely with plastic wrap or cheese cloth. Allow the cake to proof for 1 to 3 hours so that it doubles or triples in size.
Once the cake has doubled in size, preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C)
Take the plastic wrap off the cake and bake it in the oven for 20 minutes.
Loosely cover the top of the cake with foil to prevent additional browning, and bake the cake for another 30 minutes. It should be an attractive golden brown on the top.
Take the cake out of the oven and allow it to cool for 15 to 20 minutes.
Make The Icing and Decorate The Cake
Mix all of the icing ingredients together and spread the glaze evenly across the cake. It is okay if the cake is still a little warm; the frosting should still set. Add the colored sprinkles, alternating gold, green, and purple.
If you’re having a Mardi Gras party, stick a little baby figurine underneath the cake! Just tell your guests to be careful and to check their slice for the toy before eating the cake.
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