As you may have heard, king cake is king around these parts this time of year. I hope none of you are king caked out yet, because this weekend, Mardi Gras kicks into high gear as we approach a five-day celebration from today until Tuesday. A few weeks ago, I posted a guide to king cakes around the Mobile and Eastern Shore area. It’s in no way exhaustive, as I’m pretty sure my guests and I would’ve succumbed to a sugar coma before tasting every single king cake available in the area. But we tried, and I’ve gotten some great feedback on some we’ve missed. Read on to discover those and for a recipe for a king cake you can make right in your own kitchen.
Mobilians go ga-ga over Atlanta Bread Company’s soft, fluffy king cakes. Burris Farm Market is another crowd favorite, recommended to me more than once on the Facebook page. Something Sweet, a bakery in Daphne, does a coffee-cake like one that elicits raves from folks on the Eastern Shore. Rouses, a Gulf Coast grocery chain, churns out delectable king cakes and even offers a king cake doberge (pronounced “dough-bash”): a cake (of New Orleans origin) of layers of yellow cake sandwiching a creamy filling, iced with a thin layer of buttercream and poured fondant. For serious, y’all.
I’ve already established that you can get a delicious king cake pretty much anywhere on the Gulf Coast, from Alabama to Louisiana and everywhere in between. But what about those intrepid people (or non-locals) who just have to make their own king cake? I’ve got you covered.
I make one every year. I won’t lie; it’s a labor of love, for sure. It takes the better part of a day from start to finish, but oh, man, is it worth it. King cakes come in myriad fillings, from fruit to chocolate to cream cheese. This year, I upped my filling game, and I’m never looking back. It isn’t an accident that this cake, adapted from Food52, combines cream cheese and pecan praline; they just so happen to be my two favorites. The cream cheese pecan praline filling is sweet, buttery, with an almost caramel-like consistency. The toasted pecans provide a necessary textural crunch, and the pastry is tender and flaky. It’s a winner, but don’t just take my word for it.
King cakes all start out the same: with a yeasted, slightly sweet dough. Yeast is alive–it needs the right temperature and a little sugar to be able to work its magic. The milk should be lukewarm to the touch and definitely nowhere near hot. One of the key components of any bread dough is the yeast. It must be fresh, so opt for the individual packets and check the expiration date. When you combine the dry and wet ingredients, mix just until the dough gets sticky and uniform; the real magic happens in the five to seven minute knead time. After turning out the dough onto the counter, dust liberally with flour to prevent sticking. To knead, place thumbs together, and press dough away from you with the balls of your hands. Curl fingers over top the dough and fold it over, turn the dough and repeat. Add a little more flour if the dough becomes too sticky.
Once the dough is ready, roll it out to a 9×13 rectangle and spread on the filling. The filling couldn’t be easier to throw together; just melt a block of cream cheese, a cup of brown sugar, and a stick of butter together and throw in a couple handfuls of toasted pecans. Because of the thick filling, I found it easier not to braid this cake, as I usually do with a simple cinnamon-sugar filling. If you need a nut free filling, make the cake as usual and instead brush a melted half of a stick of butter over the rolled out rectangle and sprinkle with a half cup of sugar mixed with a tablespoon of cinnamon.
After you roll the cake back up, jelly-roll style and arrange it in an oval, pinching the ends closed, it needs to rise again for about a half an hour. It’ll get nice and puffy. After that, you brush it with an egg wash and bake it until golden brown, about 40 minutes.
Then, the fun begins! After a liberal slathering of glaze (cream cheese, powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract beaten together to a pourable consistency), I sprinkle on some purple, green, and gold sanding sugars, but the sky is the limit. I love this little gold baby I snagged from a Cartozzo’s Bakery king cake (sold at Greer’s Markets).