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Mardi Gras King Cake

Like our New Year’s Eve tradition, our annual Super Bowl parties have picked up so much steam over the years, they’re now barreling down the mountain without brakes and making me use bad metaphors.

What started as an excuse to eat a whole casserole dish of seven layer dip has now become a full-blown event for as many people as we can stuff around the TV. I know, I know—I do it to myself.

For this coming Sunday’s Colts-Saints matchup, I felt like the universe was giving me an excuse to go whole hog and make an entire Mardi Gras king cake to serve at our party.

Mardi Gras king cake
Photo: Casey Barber

(Don’t worry, I did what’s fair and represented the good people of Indianapolis as well in my menu. See below.)

A king cake, which is essentially a breakfast danish on steroids, wraps a sweet dough around an equally sugary filling. Some bakers go for a cinnamon roll-style center, but my heart beats for a soft and tender center of cream cheese with a little bit of cinnamon spice.

The bands of purple, gold, and green sugar or icing that blanket the cake are the official colors of Mardi Gras. This tradition stretches back to 1872 when the Rex, one of the oldest New Orleans Carnival krewes, chose them as their colors for their first parade.

Eventually the tricolor combination was adopted as the overarching colors of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and each color came to symbolize a trait: purple for justice, gold for power, and green for faith.

Mardi Gras king cake
Photo: Casey Barber

So have faith, feel your power, and know that you will do justice to the colorful history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans when you make a king cake from scratch. Despite the long list of ingredients, a king cake is no more difficult to bake than a loaf of bread, and any fans of breakfast Danishes will be immediately in love.

And if you’re having a smaller gathering or jut not feeling like serving a whole cake? Why not make Mardi Gras king cake doughnuts instead? Same great taste, in slightly more snackable form.

Mardi Gras king cake
Photo: Casey Barber

The full Super Bowl menu and the recipe for king cake follows.

CASEY’S 2010 SUPER BOWL MENU (WITH MARDI GRAS KING CAKE)

  • A trio of spreadable goodies: White on Rice Couple’s stove-top crab dip, smoked trout spread, and pimiento cheese
  • Fresh-popped spiced popcorn
  • White cheddar and green onion biscuits
  • Nicole’s sausage and shrimp jambalaya
  • Baked cheddar grits squares with hot pepper jelly
  • Pork tenderloin on homemade pretzel rolls
  • Red cabbage coleslaw
  • King cake (recipe follows)
  • Cherry-sugar cream Hoosier pie
  • A duo of ice cream floats: chicory iced coffee or Coke (the Coca-Cola bottle’s curvy design came from the Root Glass Co. in Terre Haute)
Mardi Gras king cake
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Mardi Gras king cake, the traditional tricolored dessert hailing from New Orleans, is a good-luck charm for the New Year. Make your own homemade cake with cream cheese filling. #mardigras #kingcake

Mardi Gras King Cake

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour
Dough Rising Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours

Mardi Gras king cake, the traditional tricolored dessert hailing from New Orleans, is a good-luck charm for the New Year. Make your own homemade cake with cream cheese filling.

Ingredients

Dough

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (8 ounces; 227 grams) sour cream
  • 1/4 cup milk (any fat percentage) or water
  • 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces; 50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups (12 3/4 ounces; 360 grams) bread flour + an additional 1/2 cup (2 1/8 ounces; 60 grams) if necessary
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 large egg
  • nonstick baking spray for greasing the bowl

Cream Cheese Filling

  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (4 ounces; 113 grams) confectioners sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (15 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk, any fat percentage

Glaze

Instructions

Make the cake dough:

  1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat.
  2. Add the sour cream, milk or water, sugar, and salt, stirring until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk 3 cups bread flour with the yeast, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl.
  4. Transfer the sour cream batter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat the egg into the batter on low speed. 
  5. Add the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time until a sticky dough forms. If it's particularly wet, add the reserved extra 1/2 cup flour—you may not need it.
  6. Replace the paddle with the dough hook and knead on low for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. It will still be very soft and a touch sticky, but not overly wet. 
  7. Spritz a clean bowl with the nonstick baking spray.
  8. Remove the dough from the mixer, shape into a ball, and toss gently in the bowl until all sides of the dough ball are greased.
  9. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for an hour or until doubled in bulk. 

Make the cream cheese filling:

  1. Beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla with an electric mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until no lumps of cream cheese remain. 
  2. Add the milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the filling is soft and spreadable.

Form and bake the cake:

  1. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. When the dough has doubled in bulk, turn it out onto a floured surface. Punch the dough down and roll it out into a 24-by-12-inch rectangle. 
  3. Spread the cream cheese filling evenly over the dough. 
  4. Starting with one of the long ends of the dough, carefully roll it up into a log. The dough will stretch a few inches to a log that's 28 to 32 inches long. 
  5. Place on the prepared baking sheet, seam side down, and bring the ends together to make a ring.
  6. Seal the edges together by moistening lightly with water and pinching. 
  7. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk once more, about a half hour. 
  8. While the cake rises, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  9. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden. 

Make the glaze:

  1. Whisk the sugar, bourbon, and vanilla together into a smooth paste. 
  2. Slowly whisk in the milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the glaze is liquid enough to drizzle from the whisk (you may need as little as 1 tablespoon). 
  3. If you're using food coloring, divide the glaze evenly among three small bowls. Add lavender, yellow, and green food coloring a few drops at a time until you've reached your desired intensity.
  4. If you're using finishing sugars, the glaze is ready to go on the cake.

Glaze the cake:

  1. Lift the baked cake and parchment paper onto a rack and cool for 10 minutes. 
  2. NOTE: It's a good-luck tradition to insert a small plastic baby, a large dried bean, or a pecan in the cake for one lucky recipient to discover in his/her piece. If you're going to do it, stuff it up somewhere through the bottom of the cake now. And warn your guests before they chomp down.
  3. If you're using the three food-colored glazes, drizzle and brush each band thickly onto the cake to create a pattern.
  4. If you're using colored finishing sugars, brush the glaze evenly over the cake, then sprinkle bands of alternating colored sugars. 
  5. Let the glaze harden before slicing and serving.

Notes

King cake will last for up to 1 week when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 12 Serving Size: 12
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 313Total Fat: 10gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 43mgSodium: 159mgCarbohydrates: 43gFiber: 2gSugar: 3gProtein: 8g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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6 Comments

  1. Wish I was there to partake in the baby-stuffed-in-a-cake ritual. (Is it that boring in New Jersey?) Just kidding, I’m a sucker for anything with a cream cheese filling!

  2. I did not have a chance to try that cake today, but I love how, in the photo, it looks like the world’s best glazed donut.

  3. WOW– it all sounds great, and will be, as experience has shown! Now that I know what’s coming, I’ll really save my appetite for Sunday! ymmmmmmmm….

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