I think they just call it “King Cake” in New Orleans, actually, but why get hung up on semantics? I’ve spent weeks casting about looking for a recipe that’s representative of what’s served in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. I didn’t find much that spoke to me, and was considering making up my own recipe using well-ripened brioche dough (brioche is really what a NOLA King Cake is made of). However in the end I opted to do as the Romans do, which seemed only right and proper.
Reader Sadee supplied me with the following recipe, which seems right in the crosshairs of the aesthetic I’m after. It’s adapted from The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine by John Folse and it goes like this:
For the Dough
½ ounce (2 envelopes) instant yeast
3.5 ounces (½ cup) granulated sugar
1 lb. 9 ounces (5 cups) all-purpose flour
1.25 ounces (½ cup) powdered milk
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, beaten
8 ounces (1 cup) melted butter
12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) lukewarm water
about half a cup of melted butter
about half a cup of cinnamon sugar
egg wash (2 eggs beaten well with two tablespoons milk)
For the Glazing and Finishing
2 pounds powdered sugar
1 tbsp almond extract
6 ounces (¾ cup) water
purple, yellow and green food colorings
purple, yellow (or gold) and green decorating sugars
Sift the flour into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle (beater) attachment. Add the yeast, sugar, powdered milk and salt and stir on low speed to combine. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, butter and water. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the mixing bowl and stir until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Switch to the dough hook, turn the speed up to medium and knead until the dough separates from the bowl and is just a bit tacky, about 8-10 minutes. If the dough is still very wet and sticky, add up to half a cup more flour. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow it to proof about an hour until doubled.
To shape, transfer the dough to a well-floured surface and roll it to a rectangle that’s about 18″ x 12″. Brush the dough lightly with melted butter and sprinkle on the cinnamon sugar. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough longways into three even strips that measure about 4″ x 18″. Fold each strip in half to make three strips that are 2″ wide. Braid the lengths, then shape the braid into a circle, firmly pinching the ends together. Transfer the cake to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Apply egg wash to the entire cake and proof in a warm place until the cake doubles in size. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. When the cake has proofed, brush it with more egg wash and bake 25-35 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool.
While the cake is cooling, make the glazes. In a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the beater attachment, combine the sugar and salt. Turn the mixer on to low, then add the water and almond extract. Stir until smooth. Pour one third of the glaze into each of three bowls. Color each with a few drops of purple, green or gold color. Apply to the cake in large patches (use a ladle). Allow to firm slightly, then dust with the colored sugars.