This has the texture of a cinnamon roll rather than a cake but it is still great either way! Here is some history of the cake and what it is used for. French settlers brought the custom to Louisiana in the 18th century where it remained associated with the Epiphany until the 19th century when it became a more elaborate Mardi Gras custom. In New Orleans, the first cake of the season is served on January 6. A small ceramic figurine of a baby is hidden inside the cake, by tradition. However now, the tradition is giving way to the baby being supplied and the customer placing the baby were ever they wish in the cake. Whoever finds the baby is allowed to choose a mock court and host the next King Cake party the following week (weekly cake parties were held until Mardi Gras).
In 1870, the Twelfth Night Revelers held their ball, with a large king cake as the main attraction. Instead of choosing a sacred king to be sacrificed, the Twelfth Night Revelers used the bean in the cake to choose the queen of the ball. This tradition has carried on to this day, although the Twelfth Night Revelers now use a wooden replica of a large king cake. The ladies of the court pull open little drawers in the cake's lower layer which contain the silver and gold beans. Silver means you're on the court; gold is for the queen. If you can not find any plastic babies you can use a bean and stick it in the bottom of the cake when it is done baking. Then add the icing and sugar! I hope you too can enjoy this great tradition with your family and friends!
1In a small bowl add the warm water and sprinkle in the yeast with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for 5 minutes then mix well. Set the bowl in a warm place for 10 minutes, or until the yeast bubbles and mixture almost doubles in volume.
2Combine 3 1/2 cups flour with 1/2 cup sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt, then sift into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the lemon zest or orange zest. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook then you can use it to mix all the dough ingredients.
3Create a “hole” in the middle of the bowl with the flour mixture on the sides of the bowl. Gently pour in the yeast mixture and the warm milk into the flour mixture. Add the egg yolks and combine the dry ingredients with the wet mixture. When the dough is smooth cut in the stick of butter 1 Tbsp at a time and continue to fold and combine until the dough can be formed into a soft ball shape.
4Place the ball of dough on a lightly floured surface and knead adding up to another cup of flour in small tablespoon portions at a time. Continue to knead the dough until smooth, shiny and elastic, about 10 minutes or so.
5Coat the inside of a large bowl evenly with 1 Tbsp softened butter. Place the dough ball in the bowl and rotate until the entire surface is buttered. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and place in a draft-free place for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in volume. Spray a large cookie sheet or round pizza pan with cooking spray and set aside.
6Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Using your fist punch down the dough with a heavy blow. Roll the dough into a cylinder or tube shape. Twist the dough to form a curled cylinder and loop it onto the baking sheet pan. Pinch the ends of the dough together to complete the circle.
7Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and allow to rise again in a warm location for about 45 minutes or until the dough circle doubles in volume.
8Brush the top and sides of the dough with the egg wash and bake on the middle rack of the oven @ 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, or until cooked through and golden brown. Cool cake to room temperature on a wire rack. Now is the time to hide the bean or plastic baby. Insert the bean or plastic baby on the bottom of the cake so you can't tell from the top side where it is located.
9While the cake is cooling prepare the tinted sugars by taking three separate bowls with 1/4 cup of sugar in each. Then take the purple food color and slowly drop a dot or two at a time into the sugar. Using a spoon stir to mix and spread the color around until all sugar is tinted. Add more food color as needed. Repeat the process for the green and then the yellow in their own bowls as well. Set the tinted sugars aside.
10After your done mixing the sugars,combine the sugar, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of water in a deep bowl whisking until smooth. If icing is too stiff whisk in 1 tablespoon water at a time until spreadable.
11Place cooled cake onto a serving platter or heavy cake cardboard and coat the top and sides of the cake with the icing. I like to dip my fingers into the icing and then drizzle it over the top of the cake. While the icing is still fresh immediately sprinkle the tinted sugars in individual rows about 2 to 3 inches wide of the purple, green and gold (yellow).
12Tips on Fillings: You do not have to add a filling but if you do sometimes the baking times vary. You don't want to end up with a doughy center. So you may have to bake it longer. If filling the cake you will want to have your filling prepared prior to the step where you are twisting the dough. In fact, for filled King Cake dough’s I will roll the dough out similar to cinnamon roll or danish dough style, instead of the cylinder shape as described above. Then I will sprinkle more cinnamon sugar and then add the filling. Then the dough will get rolled up around the filling jelly roll style. Then the filled dough is added to the baking sheet pan and looped into the circle and pinched before the second rising and baking stages. Typical fillings include sweetened and softened cream cheese, cherry pie filling, blueberry pie filling, lemon filling, custard filling, and my favorite is a double chocolate chocolate cake filling. Typically any pie or doughnut filling will work, you are only limited by your imagination.
13Here is an example of a cream cheese pie filling:
Cream Cheese and Fruit Filling
1 Can Cherry, apple or apricot pie filling (16-ounces)
8 Ounces Cream cheese, softened
1/2 Cup Sugar
2 Tsp Flour
2 Each Egg yolks
1 Tsp Vanilla extract
1. Using a floured roller on a floured surface, roll out the dough into a 30-by-9-inch rectangle as thin as pie crust. Let dough rest.
2. If necessary, drain extra juice from pie filling. Mix the softened cream cheese with the sugar, flour, egg yolks and vanilla. Spoon an inch-wide strip of fruit filling the length of the dough, about 3 inches from the edge. Spoon the cream cheese mixture alongside the fruit, about 3 inches from the edge. Brush the exposed dough with egg wash.
3. Fold or roll one edge of dough over the cream cheese and fruit in jelly roll fashion, and continue to roll the dough to the end, then brush with a little egg wash. Gently place one end of the filled rolled dough onto the greased baking sheet pan, and then ease the rest of the roll onto the pan, joining the ends to form the loop or circle. Add more egg wash to “glue” the ends together. Do not add the egg wash on the whole cake till step 7 is finished. Then pick up from step 7 in the dough directions above.