Tuesday, March 4, 2014

King Cake

It's Fat Tuesday, ya'll! 

My dreams of king cake began approximately four years ago during a Superbowl party near Atlanta where my friend Ian contributed a traditional king cake in honor of the Saints' hopeful win. I haven't had a bite since that day, but it has been on the "to bake" challenge list for quite some time. Today, I am happy to announce that I did it (with a little help from my sous chef) - and it was a success! My version of the cake was slightly adapted from a recipe printed in the LA Times a few weeks ago. 

The base of the king cake is a buttery Brioche dough that is rolled out, filled, and twisted before forming the dough into a ring. The dough goes through two resting cycles and will take time to rise (I let mine rise for 1.5 hours each time for a total of 3 hours). I recommend activating the yeast, measuring ingredients, and making the Brioche first. You can whip up the fillings while the dough in on its first rise. Feel free to get creative with fillings. I love the cream cheese, but simple cinnamon/sugar, toasted pecans, or other fruit fillings would be just as amazing. The recipe instructions call for use of a stand mixer with whisk and paddle attachments, but the sous chef doesn’t have one at his apartment, so I went ahead and manually kneaded the dough once it was too thick for the hand mixer. 

Tradition suggests that a small plastic baby (symbolizing the baby Jesus) or other trinket is to be inserted into the cake prior to serving. The person who happens to get the piece of cake containing the baby is said to have good luck and is also invited to bring the next king cake. We searched high and low for the food safe plastic babies in Des Moines during an early March snow storm and finally found them at Hobby Lobby. We are far, far away from the Gulf Coast and apparently they don’t take kindly to cookin' babies in cakes up here. (I hid the babies in the cakes after baking so as to avoid any possible toxic plastic fume infusion into the cake.)

As I mentioned before, this cake was worth the elbow grease and the dough was far more forgiving than I expected. Enjoy!

King Cake

Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (plus rising times)
Servings: 16

TOTAL INGREDIENTS (Dough and Fillings):
2 sticks butter (room temperature)
2 large tart apples (peeled, cored, quartered, and sliced)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raisins
18 oz (2 ¼  8-ounce packages) cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
3/4 c plus 2T sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk, divided
1 package (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups (15.75 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting
Purple, green and gold/yellow colored sugars
Plastic baby

Brioche Dough
3/4 cup milk, divided
1 package (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
2 eggs, plus ½ beaten egg (use the remaining half egg leftover from the cream cheese filling), divided
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups (15.75 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. In a small pan, heat one-half cup plus 2 tablespoons of milk over medium heat just until warmed. (Let’s not kid ourselves – I microwaved this for 45 seconds). Remove from heat and pour the milk into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar, then set aside until the milk is foamy and the yeast is activated, about 10 minutes.
2. Whisk the 2 eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture and remaining one-third cup of sugar until fully incorporated.

3. If using a stand mixer, switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated. (*see note in text)

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. With the mixer running, add the flour mixture, one spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.

5. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and somewhat silky (it's a rich dough and won't be entirely smooth), 5 to 7 minutes. Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours. (I like to preheat the oven to 180-200 degrees and turn it off; then set the dough in the oven to rise; 90 minutes was perfect to double to size of the dough)

6. Meanwhile, make an egg wash: Combine the remaining beaten half egg with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk.

7. When the dough is doubled, punch it down (it will be very smooth and elastic) and roll it out onto a lightly floured surface into a 10-by-28-inch rectangle. Lightly score the dough lengthwise to divide the dough into 2 equal halves.

8. Spoon the apple filling down the length of one side, leaving a 1½-inch border on the top, bottom and sides. Repeat with the cream cheese filling down the other side of the dough, leaving a 1½-inch border on the top, bottom and each side. Lightly brush the edges and center of the dough (along the score) with the egg wash to moisten. Gently and carefully pull the dough over the cream cheese filling, sealing the edge of the dough along the score mark. Repeat with the apple filling. For the love of all things holy, DON’T OVERFILL so that you can appropriately seal the edges - press them firmly together until they are SECURE.

9. Gently twist the length of the dough to form a braid-like shape. (Don’t lie. This doesn’t look like a braid). Wrap the dough so it forms an oval wreath and gently press the edges together. Carefully transfer the wreath to a parchment-lined baking sheet. (The sous chef helped lift the cake here… having four hands is a bonus)

10. Brush the top of the wreath lightly with egg wash and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until almost doubled in volume, 45 minutes to an hour, or loosely cover and refrigerate the dough overnight, removing it from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking for the dough to come to room temperature.

11. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly brush the wreath with any remaining egg wash (If you have overfilled and the dough is stretched thin, it will tear. Be careful) and place the sheet in the oven.
12. Bake the cake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (the toothpick will remain moist if it hits the cream cheese filling, but there should be no crumbs sticking to it), about 30 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking for even coloring.

13. Allow the cake to cool before it is frosted (if it's too hot, the glaze will run off the cake and not adhere). Drizzle the glaze evenly over the cake, then lightly sprinkle over the colored sugars. If using the plastic baby, hide it somewhere in the cake (press the baby in through the bottom of the cake so as not to disturb the top or sides of the cake). Serve the cake warm or at room temperature. (warmed is best!)

Calories 408, Total Fat 24g, Cholesterol 101mg, Sodium 341 mg, Protein 7.1g, Fiber 1.1g

Apple and Cream Cheese Filling Recipes for King Cake:

For Apple Filling:
2 tablespoons butter
2 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raisins

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the apple slices, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, and cook, stirring frequently, just until the apple starts to soften, 3 to 4 minutes (the slices should still be crisp). Remove from heat and stir in the raisins. Spread the apple mixture onto a baking sheet to stop the cooking process and allow the apples to cool quickly, then cover and refrigerate until needed.

For Cream Cheese Filling:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 beaten egg (save the other half egg to make the egg wash for the cake)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese with the vanilla, salt and sugar. Add the beaten egg to the cream cheese mixture and beat until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

For Cream Cheese Glaze:
2 ounces (¼ of an 8-ounce package) cream cheese
1/4 cup (½ stick) butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a medium bowl using a hand mixer, whisk together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt until completely combined. With the mixer running, add the sifted powdered sugar, one spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.

This recipe is quite a doozy for my first post, but it happened at the right time - and they don't call it "Fat" for nothin'!

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“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
― Anaïs Nin