I was born in New Orleans. I grew up outside of Chicago, but for the first few years of my life, I lived in New Orleans, Lousiana. I don’t remember much about the city- just a few memories from a trip we took to visit some of my parents’ friends when I was 7. My parents, however, have many more fond memories of their time there and kept several New Orleans traditions alive for us including a love for Cajun food (especially a good bowl of gumbo!) and this King Cake to commemorate Mardi Gras every year.
King Cakes are traditionally braided coffee cakes decorated with the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold and contain a tiny trinket- usually a small baby said to represent the baby Jesus. The person who finds the trinket in their piece of cake is said to be the King or Queen for the day and is obligated to supply the next King Cake or host the next party- or both. Most people outside of the Gulf coast states think of Mardi Gras as a singular day- Fat Tuesday- or the day before Ash Wednesday which begins the season of Lent in the Christian church. However, in New Orleans, the season for the King Cake can last from Epiphany (the celebration of the Magi visiting the Christ Child- also where the name “King” Cake comes from) until Fat Tuesday.
So, in honor of Fat Tuesday, here’s how to make your very own King Cake!
What you will need:
For the cake
4 1/2 cups flour 3 eggs
2 sm. packages of active dry yeast 1 tsp. salt
1 c. lukewarm milk 1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 c. granulated sugar 1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. shortening 1 tsp. butter OR orange flavoring
For the filling
1-2 cups brown sugar Cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
For the icing
3 cups powdered sugar
a few tablespoons of milk
1 tsp vanilla
Colored Sugars- purple, green and yellow if you want to be traditional
And here’s how to make your own cake:
Step 1: Make the sponge. Sift all of your flour. Dissolve the yeast in your lukewarm milk and then stir in 1 cup of the flour. Cover and let it rise in a warm place for a half hour.
Step 2: Cream your shortening with your granulated sugar. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time; then add salt and the flavorings.
Step 3: Beat the shortening mixture into the sponge and then stir in remaining sifted flour. Beat for at least 5 minutes. (I was able to do all of it in my stand mixer- it is not a very stiff dough!)
Step 4: Cover with a towel and let it rise in a warm place until doubled.
Now comes the messy- but fun part!
Step 5: Flour your table or counter and roll the dough into a rectangle.
Step 6: Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with plenty of brown sugar and cinnamon. Then fold the rectangle in half, lengthwise.
Step 7: Cut this rectangle into 3 long strips. (I then cut those strips in half to make 2 smaller cakes but you can make one giant one if you prefer!)
Step 8: Gently braid the strips of dough. It does not have to look perfect- once it is baked and covered with icing, no one will be able to tell! After braiding, let the dough rest for 15-20 minutes and then stretch it into a circle on a greased baking sheet.
Step 9: Bake at 350 for about a half hour- or until golden brown.
Step 10: Allow your cake to cool before frosting and decorating. To frost, whisk a few tablespoons of milk into your powdered sugar and add about a tsp. of vanilla extract. Add milk until the icing can be drizzled from the whisk over the cake. Drizzle the frosting liberally over your round cake and while it is still wet, sprinkle your colored sugars. (Let the frosting set before covering the cake to store.)
Step 11: Cut a wedge out and enjoy! 🙂 It’s especially good with a glass of cold milk or a cup or good coffee!
Happy Mardi Gras!