Today is Fat Tuesday! We need a Mardi Gras King Cake to celebrate. I baked a King Cake yesterday and snacked on it today with coffee. King cake is an old tradition with roots in Europe. According to Mardi Gras Day, a King Cake represents the three kings who brought gifts to the holy child. A plastic baby is baked inside the cake. The person who gets the piece of cake with the baby inside makes the cake for the next party. The colored sugar on the cake is not random. Purple represents justice; gold or yellow represents power; and, green represents faith.
Mardi Gras King Cake reminds me a lot of Italian Easter Bread. The cake is more like bread in texture and is slightly sweet although it’s not sweet like cake. Grated lemon zest and fresh lemon juice are added to the icing. The icing and the colored sugars together are tart and sweet making the cake tasty. Cinnamon swirled in the cake is a key trademark of a traditional King Cake.
Mardi Gras King Cake Recipe
For the cake
- 1/2 cup warm water 110 to 115 degrees
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 3 1/2 – 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/2 cup warm whole milk
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter cut into slices
- 1 egg slightly beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 ″ plastic baby doll
For the icing
- Green purple, & yellow food coloring paste
- 12 tablespoons sugar
- 3-1/2 cups confectioners sugar
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 3 – 6 tablespoons water
To make the dough: Add warm water to a small bowl and sprinkle with yeast and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Let yeast and sugar rest for 3 minutes then stir with a fork until mixture is blended. Set bowl in a warm place for ten minutes, or until yeast bubbles up and mixture almost doubles in volume.
In a large mixing bowl combine 3 1/2 cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg, and salt..Stir in lemon zest. Add yeast mixture and milk and beat on low-speed until blended. Add egg yolks one at a time, on low-speed. Add 1/2 cup butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on low-speed until blended and a soft ball of dough forms.
Place dough on lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Add additional flour, a little at a time, until dough is no longer sticky. Knead for 10 minutes until dough is elastic. Coat the sides of a large bowl with 1 tablespoon of butter. Place dough in bowl and cover with dish towel. Set bowl in a warm place until dough doubles in size, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch dough down.
Coat baking sheet with remaining tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle cinnamon over top of dough and gently pat down. Twist dough to form a ring, gently folding in cinnamon. Place dough on buttered cookie sheet, insert plastic baby in dough and pinch ends together. Cover dough with a dish towel and set in place free from drafts for about 45 minutes or until dough doubles in size. Brush the top of the dough ring with egg wash. Bake in 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove cake to wire rack and cool completely.
To make the colored sugars: Add a bit of coloring paste to the palm of your hand. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the palm of your hand and rub your hands together. Make sure you catch sugar on large dish or wax paper. Wash hands and repeat for the remaining colors.
To make the icing: combine confectioners sugar, lemon juice, and half the water and stir until smooth. If icing is too thick, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time until icing is smooth. Sprinkle colored sugars (alternate 2 rows of each color) on icing immediately (sugar won't' stick to icing once the icing begins to dry).
Recipe NotesAdapted from the traditional Mardi Gras King cake recipe