King cakes come in myriad fillings, from fruit to chocolate to cream cheese. Last year, I made a semi-traditional Pecan Praline Cream Cheese king cake. The year, on the advice of my 5-year-old son, I went a little out of the box with a Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese king cake. We had a plethora of Meyer lemons from the plea I put out on Facebook a few weeks earlier. (Our former home had a citrus orchard that I desperately miss, and some kind-hearted neighbors filled the void with their own bounty.) Meyer lemons are a sweeter, less tart cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, and they make a fantastic curd, which is what I used in the filling of this king cake.
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. I whipped together one package of softened cream cheese, a cup of powdered sugar, and a few tablespoons of lemon curd that I made in the microwave earlier that day. Because of the thick filling, I found it easier not to braid this cake, as I usually do with a simple cinnamon-sugar filling. I made my lemon curd in the microwave, which is the easiest thing ever, but you can always used store-bought. If you’re anti-microwave, but you want to still make it yourself, use this recipe for lemon curd.
Easy Lemon Curd
The easiest way to make lemon curd--in the microwave!
- 1 cup lemon juice
- zest of 3 lemons
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 yolks
- 1 stick butter, melted and cooled
In a microwaveable bowl, mix sugar, butter, zest and egg yolks.
Add lemon juice and whisk.
Cook in 1 minute on 100% power in the microwave until it coats the back of a metal spoon, about 5-7 minutes.
Whisk after every minute.
Pour into sterile jar or container and refrigerate.
Keeps for up to 4 days in the fridge.
After you roll the cake back up, jelly-roll style, seal the seams, 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 lemon extract beaten together to a pourable consistency), I sprinkle on some purple, green, and gold sanding sugars, but the sky is the limit.
Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese King Cake
A delightfully lemony, unique take on the classic king cake.
- 3/4 cup warm milk
- 1 packet of active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 stick of butter melted and cooled
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 whole egg
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 stick of butter
- 1 8- oz package of cream cheese
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons lemon curd purchased or homemade*
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons or more whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- colored sugars in purple green and gold and a plastic baby or coin
Combine the warm milk, yeast, and 1 teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl and and set aside for five minutes.
While yeast is proofing, whisk together the butter, egg yolks, vanilla extract, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a separate bowl.
In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 1/4 cup of sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt.
When the yeast mixture is foamy, add that and the butter mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed just until a soft, sticky dough forms.
Dust countertop with flour and knead by hand (adding flour as needed) for 5 to 7 minutes until you have a smooth dough.
Transfer dough to a greased bowl, cover with a damp towel or saran wrap, and let rise for two hours, in a warm place until doubled in size.
While the dough rises, make the filling.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the cream cheese and powdered sugar until fluffy.
Add lemon curd and mix until incorporated.
After dough has doubled, punch it down and shape it into a rectangle. With a rolling pin, roll it out to a 9- x 13-inch rectangle.
Spread the filling on evenly, leaving two inches along each side so that the filling doesn't ooze out. Starting opposite of that end, roll up the dough like a jelly roll. Pinch seams shut.
Transfer to a greased baking sheet and shape it in to an oval, joining the ends and pinching them together. Let rise for another half an hour.
Preheat oven to 375° F. Whisk one egg together with the tablespoon of water in a small bowl and brush egg wash all over the top of the cake with a pastry brush.
Bake the cake for 40 minutes until the cake is golden brown. Let the cake cool completely before decorating.
To make the glaze, beat the cream cheese with the milk until smooth. Add lemon juice and extract. Continue adding powdered sugar until glaze is thick but still pourable. Place the cake on a wire rack over parchment and pour glaze over cake. Decorate with sanding sugar, alternating purple, green, and gold. Working from the bottom of the cake, press the baby fully into the cake.
*See recipe for Microwave Lemon Curd