It’s that time again. Today is the eve of King’s Day/Feast of the Epiphany/Twelfth Night/Little Christmas AKA the last day of Christmas. Tomorrow is when we take the Christmas trees and lights down and put up the Mardi Gras decorations. This year Mardi Gras is somewhat early (February 20th) so Carnival season is short and there’s less time to eat King cake. The following recipe is for a traditional King cake which is more like a sweet brioche than cake. I am no fan of the modern King cake which is at best treated like a glorified coffee cake. A few years back, we bought a king cake without knowing it was filled with cherry. Normally, I would have liked cherry coffee cake, but it was a bit like taking a drink of soda thinking it’s coke only to find out it’s root beer. I like root beer, but not when I want coke. When I was growing up, we always had the McKenzie’s or Schweggman’s King Cake which were made in the traditional style; I guess my mind is stuck on those cakes.
Traditionally the cake was baked on Epiphany Eve and served the following afternoon to family and friends. Nowadays the cake is made throughout Carnival season and served until Mardi Gras. By the Middle Ages, veneration of the three wise men had spread throughout Europe and Epiphany became known as The Feast of the Three Holy Kings. The cake was baked in honor of the Magi. According to Wikipedia, related culinary traditions are the tortell of Catalonia, the gâteau des Rois in Provence or the galette des Rois in the northern half of France. Latin Americans, like New Orleanians, place a figure representing the Christ child inside the cake. In other cultures, the king cake might contain a coin, bean, pecan or pea. In New Orleans, the person who receives the piece of cake containing a “baby” must provide the king cake for the next gathering of the season.
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
2 packages dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
4 to 5 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/2 cup warm milk (105 to 115 degrees)
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, cooled
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup finely chopped candied citron
1 pecan half, uncooked dried bean or King Cake Baby
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
Purple, green and gold sugar crystals
Combine the warm water, yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside to a warm place for about 10 minutes.
Combine the 4 cups of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, nutmeg, lemon rind and add warm milk, melted butter, egg yolks and yeast mixture. Beat until smooth. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place the dough in a well-greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top. Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours).
Preheat the oven 350 degrees. Punch the dough down and place on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with the citron and knead until the citron is evenly distributed. Shape the dough into a log, about 30 inches long. Place the dough on a buttered baking sheet. Shape into a ring, pinching ends together to seal. Place a well-greased 2-pound coffee can or shortening can in the center of the ring to maintain shape during baking. Press the King Cake Baby, pecan half or dried bean into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough. Cover the ring with a towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the coffee can immediately. Allow the cake to cool. For the glaze: Combine the ingredients and beat until smooth. To assemble, drizzle cake with the glaze. Sprinkle with sugar crystals, alternating colors.
Warn your friends that there is a potential baby/bean inside so there are no broken teeth.