Contributed by Dena Connor
The King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gras treat, baked and covered with a poured sugar topping in Mardi Gras colors; Purple, representing Justice, Green representing Faith and Gold representing Power. Traditionally, the person who finds the hidden "baby" in his or her slice of cake must provide the cake the next year. Hundreds of thousands of King Cakes are consumed at parties worldwide every year and in fact, a Mardi Gras party wouldn't be complete without a King Cake.
This recipe has a lot of steps but none of them are difficult. Now that you know how time-consuming it is to make a King Cake, you can appreciate why many people just order one up from their favorite bakery!
1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
31/2 41/2 cups unsifted flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup warm milk
5 egg yolks
1 stick butter cut in slices and softened, plus 2 tablespoons more
1 egg slightly beaten with a tablespoon of milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tiny plastic doll (not more than 1")
Pour the warm water into a small shallow bowl and sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar into it. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for three minutes, then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm place for 10 minutes until yeast bubbles up. Combine 31/2 cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt and sift into a large mixing bowl.
Stir in lemon zest. Separate center of mixture to form a hole and pour in yeast mixture and milk. Add egg yolks and using a wooden spoon, combine dry ingredients into the yeast/milk mixture. When mixture is smooth, beat in 8 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time and continue to beat 2 minutes or until dough can be formed into a medium soft ball.
Place ball of dough on floured surface and knead, gradually adding up to 1 cup more of flour. When dough is no longer sticky, knead 10 minutes more until shiny and elastic.
Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of a large bowl evenly with one tablespoon softened butter. Place dough ball in the bowl and rotate until the entire surface is buttered. Cover bowl with a heavier kitchen towel and allow dough to rise in a warm place for about 11/2 hours or until it doubles in volume. Coat a large baking sheet with one tablespoon of butter and set aside. After the first rising, place the dough on a floured surface and punch it down with a heavy blow. Sprinkle cinnamon, then pat and shape the dough into a long 'snake' or 'cylinder'. Form a twist by folding the long cylinder in half, end to end, and pinching the ends together. Then twist the dough. Form a ring with the completed twist pinch the ends together. Place the completed ring on the buttered baking sheet, cover it with a towel and allow it to rise for 45 minutes or until it doubles in volume.
After the second rising, brush the top and sides of the cake with the egg and milk wash. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 25-35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and hide the plastic baby in the cake.
Icing (2 parts)
Green, purple and yellow coloring paste (sold with cake decorating supplies)
12 tablespoons sugar
Divide sugar into three portions (for green, yellow and purple).
Add a tiny amount of the coloring paste to each sugar portion. Try mixing the sugar and colored pasted between your palms for best results. Set aside.
3/4 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
36 tablespoons of water
Combine ingredients until smooth, adding more water if it's too thick. Spoon icing over top of cake. Immediately sprinkle on colored sugars, alternating between the three colors. Serve in 2"3" pieces.