Monday, February 11, 2013

Mardi Gras King Cake on Lundi Gras

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday.  That makes today Lundi Gras, Fat Monday.

A few weeks ago, I read this article in the New York Times, and I immediately had a craving for an almost-sickeningly-sweet King Cake.  I decided against the shipping costs inherent in ordering online, and instead trolled the interwebs looking for a recipe.

First, for those of you unfamiliar with the tradition, let's talk about King Cake.  Here's a non-complete description.  Carnival or King Cake Season or Mardi Gras extends from Twelfth Night (or Epiphany) on January 6 through Mardi Gras (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday).  In my Midwestern naivete, I never realized until I started college that Mardi Gras is more than one day, but is really an entire season.  During this season, people eat King Cake, a rich bread-like pastry (often filled with a variety of fillings).  In each cake is hidden a baby (or other trinket), and the lucky(?) person who finds the trinket gets the privilege of bringing the cake to the next party.  There are lots of variations on King Cake depending on locale and tradition, but in my mind the quintessential King Cake is ring filled cake covered in colorful sugar that I first encountered my freshman year of college.

Picture from the interwebs.
Back when I was in college, there was a McKenzie's Bakery within walking distance of the house I rented (with my 3-4 roommates, depending on the semester).  Despite the fact that it was within walking distance, I only ventured inside a few times (though it was next to the Circle K and Blockbuster that we sometimes frequented).  When I did go in, it was always for a King Cake.  I understand that McKenzie's was a bit of a nostalgic landmark (or chain of landmarks) in New Orleans.  But I think it's heyday had passed by the time I was living there, and it always seemed...how should I put this... well ... dirty.  So I was not shocked when a bad health inspector report eventually brought the chain to a close in the early 00s.  But their King Cake's were delicious, and in many ways the quintessential New Orleans King Cake, at least in my mind.

So upon my interweb travels a few weeks ago, I found what claimed to be THE McKenzie's recipe.  So I gave it a go.  You now have time, if you hurry to make one tonight or tomorrow.  But before we get started, a few notes:
  1. This is not for the impatient or the faint of heart or those that are carefully watching their cholesterol.
  2. The recipe makes enough dough for 2 cakes, but the filling listed is for a single cake.
  3. If you hide a trinket in a cake, tell your friends.  Or brush up on your Heimlich.
So without further ado, the recipe.

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McKenzie's New Orleans King Cake

Cake:
2 1/4 teaspoon yeast
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
4 cup flour

FILLING:
1/2 king cake recipe
6 oz cherry, apple or apricot pie filling
8 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoon flour
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 dried bean
yellow, green, and purple sugars


Mix the yeast with the warm water. Stir 1 teaspoon of the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the flour into the yeast and set aside. By the time you have measured the other ingredients, the yeast should start bubbling.

Bring the milk to a boil and stir in the butter and the sugar. Pour into a large bowl and allow to cool for a few minutes; the mixture should be lukewarm (be careful the mixture isn't too hot or you will kill the yeast and scramble the eggs). Beat in the egg yolks, whole eggs and the yeast.

Beat in approximately 2 cups of flour, until the dough is fairly smooth, then gradually add enough additional flour to make a soft dough that you can form into a ball. Knead it, until smooth and elastic.  I let the dough hook on my mixer do the kneading.

Lightly oil a bowl, turn the dough once or twice in it to grease it lightly all over, cover with plastic wrap and a cloth and leave to rise in a warm spot until it doubles in size - about 1 1/2 hours.  I chose a cold day to make this and our kitchen is drafty.  So I set the bowl on (or near) the stove while I cooked the rest of the day to pick up some indirect heat.

Pat dough down and cover the bowl with a damp towel, plastic film over that and refrigerate until the next day.  I forgot the damp towel, and everything turned out ok.  This recipe makes enough dough for two king cakes.

Remove dough with floured hands, while it's firm and cold, shape into a long sausage shape.  Straight out of the refrigerator it was extremely hard to work with, so I let it set out for a bit before I started shaping.  Using a floured roller on a floured surface, roll out the dough into a 30X9 rectangle about as thick as pie crust.  This was tricky.  I used a 9x13 pan to gauge the measurements.  Let the dough rest.

Drain extra juice from pie filling.  Mix the cream cheese with the sugar, flour, egg yolks and vanilla.  Spoon an inch wide strip of fruit filling the length of the dough, about 3 inches from the edge.  Spoon the cream cheese mixture alongside the fruit, about 3 inches from the other edge.  Brush both sides of dough with egg wash. 

Fold one edge of dough over the cream cheese and fruit, then the other edge over. Gently place one end of the filled roll onto a large greased (or parchment-lined) cookie sheet. Ease the rest of the roll onto the pan, joining the ends to form a circle or oval. When shaping the filled dough into an oval and placing on the cookie sheet an extra set of hands was very useful. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.  

Preheat oven to 350F. Brush again with egg wash and cut deep vents into the cake. Sprinkle with colored sugars.  If you are going to frost the cake, then I wouldn't worry too much about the colored sugars here; there will be plenty of sugar.

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As it cools, it will deflate, but have no fear. Also, you might get some oozing.
Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until cake is well risen and golden. 

Allow the cake to cool completely before icing with confectioner's sugar mixed with enough evaporated milk (or regular milk) to make a spreadable paste.  You can either tint the icing purple, green and gold or sprinkle with the colored sugars.  I made my icing way too thin, but live and learn.

* If using a plastic baby instead of the bean, insert it into the bottom of the cake after it is baked.

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I only made one cake, and honestly we only ate a few pieces.  I used a bit of the extra dough to make a couple of individual cakes (in the interest of not being wasteful). 

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These tasted better than they looked.  And they looked like bagels with frosting.

We used a strawberry pie filling, but it would be better with something less sweet and more tart.  I would probably use cherries next time.  If you were into it, you could add cinnamon to the filling, but I live in a cinnamon-free home.



The verdict: it was incredibly tasty and just as I remembered it.  I don't know if this is really the McKenzie's recipe, and I kind of doubt it, but it was very good nonetheless.  We didn't eat enough of the cake to officially find the baby.  But because it just wasn't a rich enough treat, I made crawfish pie and cheesey corn chowda' before we ate the cake.


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I'm hoping to make this a tradition and give it another go next year.  Or maybe I'll attempt to make a traditional French galette des rois.

But my next recipe trial, calling on that NY Times article again, will be Doberge Cake using this recipe.



2 comment(s). Tell me what you think!:

Meagan @ The Clanahan Fam said...

What is it about King Cakes? I can go all year without thinking about one and then all of a sudden, Mardi Gras rolls around and I must have one. Since we are so close to LA, they sell them in the grocery here, but they are always massively disappointing. Anyway, as always, impressed with your patience and attention to detail! And cannot wait to see the Doberge Cake - Gambino's was hands down my favorite place for that little slice of heaven.

Aleta said...

Yep, Mardi Gras brings out the sweet tooth :) We love the king cakes from Randazzo's. I wanted to make a king cake this year, but never did get around to that.

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