King Cakes are a huge part of Mardi-Gras traditions throughout the south. Also known as Twelfth Night Cake, you will find this brioche-type pastry in bakeries from January 6th (Epiphany/Twelfth Night) to Ash Wednesday. This cake was used to celebrate the coming of the three wise men bearing gifts twelve days after Christmas.
In 1871 the tradition of choosing the queen of Mardi Gras was determined by the person who got the piece of cake with the bean symbolizing the baby Jesus. Today it is considered good luck to the person who receives the slice of cake with the prize, and that person is to have the next King Cake party.
The parties continue until the first day of Lent, ending on Mardi Gras day. In 1872 the Mardi Gras parade organization, Rex Krewe, chose the festival’s symbolic colors. The colors used to decorate the King Cake are purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power.
- 1/2 cup warm water (110-115*)
- 2 envelopes active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tsp
- 4-4 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/2 cup warm milk
- 5 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 (12 1/2-ounce) can almond cake and pastry filling
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar over warm water. Do not stir.
Let rest for 4-5 minutes, then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm draft-free place until yeast starts to bubble up.
Mixture will almost double in volume (about 10 minutes). If it doesn’t rise throw it out and use new yeast. Check expiration date.
In a large mixing bowl, mix 4 cups flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, nutmeg, lemon zest and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (I use my Kitchen Aid) combine yeast, milk and egg yolks.
Gradually add the dry ingredients and softened butter.
Add additional flour as needed to achieve a medium soft-ball. Knead dough again until smooth, shiny and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Place dough in a buttered bowl, cover and set in a draft-free spot (I put it in the microwave) until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
When dough has risen, turn it out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using your fingers, pat it out into a rectangle that fills the baking sheet.
Spread the filling over the bottom half of the dough, then fold the top half over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and form into a cylinder, twisting it as you shape it in a circle. With seam side down, pinch the ends together.
Cover and let rise until doubled again, about 45 minutes or so.
Pre-heat oven to 350. Brush top of cake with 1-2 Tablespoons of milk.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
Mix confectioner’s sugar, milk and lemon juice until smooth.
When cake is completely cool, insert plastic baby or bean. The icing and colored sugar will hide the small hole.
Spread icing over cake and immediately sprinkle with the colored sugars in alternating colors around the cake.
This is a wonderfully delicious special treat to serve for a brunch any time of year. Just leave off the colored sugars. YUM!