Wrong-time-of-year King Cake

First thing I want to start off this post with, is something very personal and revealing.

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This is the most cohesive recipe I’ve ever gotten from my mom. Everything else I’ve gleaned through my nose and eyes. A couple of times I’ve gotten a dictated recipe full of vague measurements like “enough” and “some.”

It’s definitely possible to learn from and work with stuff like this!

This is also a big part of why I’ve always been a little inconsistent in how I post recipes. I fundamentally believe that the ingredients themselves are inconsistent–no two jalapeños are alike, and it’s important to be prepared to handle the differences.

Even with baking, I follow the same ideas. I started out using recipes as a crutch, but I grew to trust my senses. All sorts of things–humidity, age of the yeast or flour, temperature of each ingredient and of the air–influence the dough, and it is more important to look at the dough itself than to look at a dead page with dead script on it. So now recipes are starting points, style guides. And the pictures help keep me in tune with what things should look like. Good descriptions help fill in my senses and build my expectations.

So with that in mind, I took a ton of pictures of the process and I’ll try to be detailed in all my sensory descriptions.

It wasn’t the right season, but I’m consistently out of town for Mardi Gras, so we made a King Cake anyway last time we visited.

We’re not big on excessive food coloring or sugar, so the toppings are a bit different than what you’d normally see.
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For our version, there are actually two recipes. One for the filling (which we also used as an icing) and one for the dough. Our filling is a basic fluffy-almost-cream-cheese, but you can use anything you like. The filling was whipped up too fast for me to get a good picture, so here’s the recipe:

2 cream cheeses
1 tub of mascarpone (8oz)
1 cup confectioners sugar
tap of vanilla

Mix these all together in a bowl until smooth.
Resist the temptation to eat it all while making everything else.

But as for the dough, that’ll be a bit more interesting.

Assemble the following:
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
2 packages of yeast (or 4.5 teaspoons)
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup warm water
2 eggs
1/2 tsp nutmeg
5 1/2 cups flour (we used bread flour, cake flour would be nice too)
1 1/2 tsp salt

your selection of toppings/extra filling (we used a mix of blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries)

To start, we’re going to need to scald the milk.

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To do this, just heat the milk up on medium high. Keep an eye on it, because you don’t want it to boil, scalding is just before that. Stir it if you like, but it will slow down the process. When the milk starts to froth at the edges, you’ve reached the right point.

Take the milk off the stove, and pour it in your mixing bowl. Add your butter and allow to melt. Now that the pressure’s off of watching the milk, go ahead and preheat the oven to 375.

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Yeast is alive, and you don’t want to kill it. If you put it in the butter + milk too soon, you could murder it with heat. So let that cool until it’s cold enough that you would comfortably touch it, then add the yeast, sugar, water and eggs.

Lightly mix it. You don’t want to froth it up, but you want the ingredients to be equally incorporated. Top it off with the nutmeg.

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Then, add the flour slowly, about a cup at a time. Tap it into the mixer while it’s running, and add more once what was in there has blended in. Your dough will end up somewhat sticky, but not soupy. It’ll stick to your fingers, but that’s totally fine.

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This recipe makes three king cakes, but we only made two last time and that worked out well. You can play with this to see how many cakes you want and how thick they’re going to be. Once we grabbed as much dough as we wanted to use, we then separated it into two pieces. After the rolling and the filling, each piece will be a half circle for the whole cake.

Before rolling it out, prep the countertop and the rolling pin with more flour. Sprinkle liberally, but try not to have clumps.

As you roll it, if there are spots where the dough sticks to the rolling pin, just sprinkle more flour on. You’ll notice that it becomes easier to handle the dough once you start working it like this.

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Aim for a crust that is rectangular instead of square or circular, and make it around 1/4-1/2 inch thick. We’re going to roll it into a tube, and then make it a circle from there. But before that!
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Slap down some of the cream cheese filling and sprinkle your favorite things inside. We used mixed berries, but it works really well with any type of fruit, flavored cream cheese fillings, or even chopped up candy bars.

With your hands (not the rolling pin!), roll these flat doughs into tubes.

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You can see both of ours in the picture, back in the background is the second one. Once they’re both ready, curl one into a half-circle and make room to bring the other half over.

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We overlapped the dough a little to help seal the halves together.

Once the oven was ready, we popped it in, covered with high quality butter, and bake for 30 minutes. The butter isn’t strictly necessary, but it gives it a beautiful GBD color and texture.

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When the cake is done, let it cool on a cake rack until cool to the touch. If you try to ice it while it is still hot, the icing won’t set and will melt down the sides. We used the leftover filling for the icing, but you could definitely use something like a royal icing or a buttercream, or your favorite type of other-icing.

We sprinkled on the leftover fruit to finish it off, then chowed down.

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It was great as a dessert, but if you can manage, I recommend saving at least a little. It tastes great chilled (and I love the texture of the filling both hot and cold, so it’s good to try it both ways).

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