With Fat Tuesday coming up next week, now's the time to bring a taste of Mardi Gras into your kitchen -- drunken revelry and shiny beads optional.
I'm an enthusiastic baker, and once I get a recipe idea into my head it's hard to shake it. This happened recently when I saw a recipe for King Cake from The Associated Press. King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gras dessert that's essentially a giant cinnamon roll. In New Orleans, a small plastic baby is inserted into the cake, and the person who chomps down on the little guy has to buy the next King Cake or throw next year's Mardi Gras party. But since that didn't make much sense in the Lowcountry, I made my King Cake sans infant.
Preparation: This cake is actually a bread, and a real "project." I like food projects every now and then, and -- having little experience baking bread -- I knew this would be a challenge. And it was. My first real challenge was in determining when the dough was the correct consistency. It was far too sticky at first, so I added several tablespoons of flour until it was "soft and slightly sticky," as the recipe described. My other big issue came when I didn't have a cutting board big enough for rolling out the dough. I ended up making do with two cookie sheets on a folding table, but it wasn't ideal. Note to self: Add a large cutting board to birthday wish list.
Taste: I have to be honest with you, readers -- I think I overbaked my King Cake. It was dense and a little dry around the edges. I only baked it for 45 minutes, which was the lowest end of the suggested bake time. So keep a close eye on your cake when it's baking. Despite the textural disappointment in my cake, the dough flavor was excellent. The cinnamon filling was also delicious, and I suggest making a bit more than called for. Having learned from this experience, I'm anxious to try my hand at another King Cake next year.
The bottom line: King Cake is a good weekend project for cinnamon roll lovers and people who long to be on Bourbon Street.
Hannah's rating: 3 stars
Hannah H. Carroll is the assistant features editor for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, and enjoys making desserts for her family and friends.
Overall rating: 3 stars
Straight from the taster's mouth
"I like the lemon icing and the cinnamon filling, but it was a little too dry. It would've been a lot better with a cup of hot coffee." Amy Coyne Bredeson, features reporter, 3 stars
"I think the icing is what pulls it together and gives it a little kick of flavor." Justin Paprocki, features reporter, 3 stars
"I didn't like how tart the frosting was with how mild and bready the cake is. I can see why they only eat it once a year." Regan McTarsney, copy editor/page designer, 2 stars
The samplers: Employees of The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette
1 star = Ewww!
5 stars = Seconds, please!
Submit your recipe
Do you have an interesting dessert recipe for Hannah's next experiment? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Try it at home
We want to know what YOU think of King Cake -- yum or yuck? Whip up a batch at home and give us your verdict at islandpacket.com/blogalacarte.
Start to finish:
FOR THE DOUGH:
1 cup warm milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
4 eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant or fast-acting yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
FOR THE FILLING:
1/2 cup raisins
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
FOR THE DECORATION:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
Purple, green and gold colored sugars
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the milk, sugar, zest, eggs, egg yolks and butter.
With the mixer running on the lowest setting, add the nutmeg, salt, yeast and 5 cups of the flour. Mix until a dough comes together. If the dough is too dry, add a tablespoon of water; if it is too wet, add a couple tablespoons of flour. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky.
Increase the mixer speed to 2 and knead for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the filling. In a small saucepan, combine the raisins and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high. Remove from the heat and let soak for 15 minutes. Drain the raisins, then transfer them to a kitchen towel and pat dry.
In a food processor, combine the raisins, cream cheese, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Pulse together until combined, then add the pecans and pulse just until incorporated.
When the dough has risen, coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a long rectangle, about 22-by-14 inches.
Spread the filling over the surface of the dough, leaving a 2-inch border along the edges. Roll the dough up into a tight log starting with one of the long sides. Pinch the seam shut and turn until the seam is on the bottom.
Move the log onto the prepared baking sheet. Insert one end of the log into the other end to form a ring. Loosely cover and allow to rise until puffy and almost doubled in size, about 1 hour. Toward the end of the rising time, heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
To make the icing, in a medium bowl stir together the powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle over the top of the cooled king cake. Immediately sprinkle with the colored sugars before the icing begins to harden.