On the Gulf Coast, we are fortunate enough to segue right into Mardi Gras after New Year’s Day. Our tastebuds get no hiatus from deliciousness; after Epiphany, we are finally allowed to eat king cake. But don’t let anyone catch you eating this ridiculously delicious salted caramel king cake before sunset on January 5th. Legend has it that it’ll rain on Fat Tuesday if there is any premature king cake consumption.
As we are fully into Mardi gras season, no one needs to worry about eating king cake too early. This delicious salted caramel king cake is decadence on a cake platter, from the sweet and buttery filling to the glaze.
Every year, I make my own king cake. I always use the same master dough recipe (it’s not broken, so no fixing needed) but I vary the filling every year. There’s my ever-so-popular Pecan Praline Cream Cheese King Cake, and my Meyer Lemon Cream Cheese King Cake. I even made the French frangipane-stuffed puff pastry version, a Galette de Rois.
How do you make a 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.
What is kneading, anyway?
After turning out the dough onto the counter, dust the dough 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 it’s smooth and elastic, let it rise in an oiled bowl for one and a half to two hours.
How to make the filling
This filling is a simple salted caramel filling that does double duty as a filling and a glaze. Bubble brown sugar and butter together until melted, and then stir in some heavy cream, vanilla, and salt. Use most of it to fill the cake and add a little to the glaze to flavor it.
Salted Caramel King Cake
This rich king cake is filled with salted caramel and glazed with more caramel, dusted with the signature colors of Mardi gras: purple, gold, and green.
- 3/4 cup milk warmed to 110-115 degrees
- 1 active dry yeast packet
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup butter melted and cooled
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 cups flour all purpose, plus more for dusting
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon ground
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg whole
- 1 tablespoon water
Salted Caramel Filling
- 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
- 3/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 ounces cream cheese
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons whole milk or more
- 1/4 cup salted caramel filling
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- colored sprinkles in purple, green and gold
- 1 bean or plastic baby
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, and vanilla extract 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 one to two hours, in a warm place, until doubled in size.
While the dough rises, make the filling. In a large sauce pan on medium heat, melt together the butter and brown sugar and continue stirring until the mixture starts to bubble. Remove it from heat, stir in the heavy cream, and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Divide in half (one half of the salted caramel will be inside the cake, and the other half you will mix into the glaze). Cool filling in the fridge for at least an hour. (Caramel filling can be made up to five days ahead. Keep in fridge covered).
After dough has doubled, punch it down and divide it in two balls. Shape the first piece into a rectangle. With a rolling pin, roll it out to a roughly 13-inch long rectangle. Spread 1 cup of the filling on evenly, leaving an inch along one of the long sides so that the filling doesn't ooze out. Starting opposite of that end, roll up the dough like a jelly roll. Repeat for the other ball of dough. Pinch seams and ends closed thoroughly (wet your fingertips if it's easier). Braid the two logs together.
Transfer to a greased baking sheet and shape the cake into 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. Beat in 1/4 cup of caramel. Alternate adding powdered sugar and milk 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.
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