Tuesday, April 5, 2011

King Cake

Yes, yes, I know, Mardi Gras is over. Long over. I however have always wanted to try my hand at "King Cake", a Mardi Gras tradition. So, what the heck, I'm going to make it anyway. My kitchen, my rules! Right? So in the past I have "googled" King Cake and have found a million recipes and a million versions; from the very easy to the extremely step intensive; all claiming to be authentic. So how do I dig through all the recipes and find a good one? Funny you should ask. And funnier still, is how I did find a good one. And boy, is it good!

You know, the internet is a funny thing. Kind of like those "choose your adventure" books. What you discover can be in the strangest of places, arrived at by a totally random series of links and mouse clicks. All you need is a little curiosity and some time. Here is how I found this recipe and one of my new favorite blogs.

About a year ago, I was searching the internet for cake design ideas which eventually lead me to the blog  "Cake Journal". Louise had a list of her favorite blogs, so I checked them out. One I really liked was "Bakerella". (Seriously check her out. Her blog is great. She has been ill lately so hasn't been blogging much but look around her blog. Lots of great stuff there!) Bakerella quickly became one of my favorite blogs so I decided to follow her on Twitter. Then about a month ago, Bakerella "retweeted" a comment by "@closetmastrbakr". So, I went and checked out her blog "Confections of a (Closet) Master Bakerand was hooked. Then low and behold, Gesine* posted a recipe for King Cake. I took it as a sign, that I must finally make King Cake and thus I did.

Here is how it all turned out:

First start out by making some pastry cream. The recipe is here. You need whole milk, vanilla bean paste (I used it - 2 teaspoons - instead of the vanilla bean and extract called for in the original recipe.), cornstarch, sugar, eggs and butter.

Put the eggs, cornstarch, vanilla and sugar in your mixer and whip on high until light and fluffy.

While that's whipping, getting light and fluffy, bring the milk to a boil in a heavy saucepan.

See, nice and light and fluffy.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the boiling milk. Not too fast, you don't want to scramble your eggs. When the milk is all in there, turn the speed up and whisk until it's all incorporated.

Put the mixture back into the saucepan and whisk constantly over medium heat until it boils and thickens.

Remove from the heat, add the butter and whisk until it's completely incorporated.

Pour immediately into a bowl and put a piece of plastic wrap right on top of the cream. This will keep a skin from forming. Allow it too cool completely. You can make this a day or two ahead, I did. Just store it in the refrigerator until your ready to finish making the King Cake.

So, now, on to the cake (full recipe is here). Ingredients: bread flour, instant yeast, salt, maple syrup, eggs, whole milk, lemon (for zest), vanilla bean paste and unsalted butter.

Put the flour, yeast and salt into the bowl of your mixer fitted with a dough hook. Stir them together with the mixer set on low.

The best way to get good lemon zest is with a microplane grater. I was feeling kind of lazy and didn't have a lemon, so I almost skipped this step. Then recovered from my weakness and drove to the store for a lemon. Boy was I glad I did. Then minute I started zesting, the smell was divine and I know it needed to be in there!

In a separate bowl, mix together the maple syrup, 2 whole eggs, milk, lemon zest and vanilla.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. When they are just combined, add the softened butter a bit at a time.

Mix on medium until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl, is no longer sticky and is kind of shiny. You may need to add addition flour, up to a cup, if your dough is really sticky. (I did in fact use the full cup of extra flour). This process can take up to 15 minutes.

Almost done.

Proof the dough until doubled in size. The best way to do this is in a container with high, mostly straight sides. Spray with non-stick spray and plop the dough in. Make a mark (the best way would be to use a small piece of tape, but I didn't think of that until I had used a Sharpie marker.) where the top of the dough is. Loosely cover the top, plastic wrap, paper towel, whatever you have handy.

Here it is after almost an hour, not quite there.

A little longer and it's done. Twice as high as it was, so doubled in size.

Punch the dough down and roll out, on a well floured surface, into a 24-inch by 12-inch rectangle.

Flavor the pastry cream with bourbon and cinnamon.

And spread it out evenly over the dough.

Roll the dough up, starting with the long edge, into a tight roll. From the roll into a circle and pinch the ends together securely.

Every few inches make a slash into the roll exposing some of the filling. Allow it to rise until doubled in size again.

Brush the whole thing with 2 beaten egg whites and sprinkle with sugar. The recipe calls for granulated sugar but I had some in the traditional Mardi Gras colors (gold, green & purple) so I used that. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

When completely cooled, drizzle with glaze. The original recipe calls for colored glaze but since I used the colored sugar I left the glaze uncolored.

This is what a slice looks like. I didn't use enough flour on my surface so the dough stuck a bit and I had a hard time getting a tight roll. But, it tasted great. I will definitely make this again. I'm thinking of flavoring the pastry cream with almond and sprinkling the top with sliced almonds. I'll keep you posted on that.

Here are the links again:

* Gesine has two great books: My Life From Scratch and Sugar Baby. I own them both! They are great. Check them out.