Crowning glory

By | | Eating In

King Cake is a cinnamon roll bread with icing and generous splashes of colored sugar on top. (Carl Davaz/The Register-Guard)
King Cake is a cinnamon roll bread with icing and generous splashes of colored sugar on top.
In New Orleans, you’ll find King Cake served from Epiphany, the Jan. 6 feast of the three kings who came to bring presents to the baby Jesus, clear through to Mardi Gras which falls on March 4 this year.

King Cake is not really cake. It’s a cinnamon roll bread with icing and generous splashes of colored sugar on top.

Hidden in the cake should be a porcelain baby or a favor that, depending on whose tradition you want to follow, means good luck to the one whose piece contains it; or they are king or queen for the day; or they might have to supply the next King Cake.

Buy a tiara or make a crown for the lucky person to wear.

You can find porcelain babies or other heat-proof tokens online. Or a nontoxic token could be pushed into the bottom of the baked cake. The best and easiest idea might be to put a pecan half into the bread. It’s edible, and you won’t have to worry about anyone breaking a tooth on what should be a good-luck token.

A King Cake should be boldly, even garishly, decorated. New Orleans is not a place for pastels. You want color with a capital C. You can buy colored sugars or make your own with food coloring and sugar.

Serve King Cake as dessert or for breakfast, preferably while wearing lots of bright Mardi Gras beads.

King Cake

  • 4 ounces sour cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, cut in pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for rolling and dusting
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 pecan half
  • Food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

For Glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • Milk, as needed to make glaze
  • 1 crown for the one who receives the token

Combine sour cream, milk and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until the butter melts. Set aside to cool a bit.

Combine the sugar and water in the mixing bowl of a sturdy stand mixer. Sprinkle with yeast. Let sit until the yeast has absorbed the liquid and has begun to swell.

Stir the egg into the milk mixture and then pour all into the mixing bowl. Give it another stir.

Add 1 1/2 cups of flour and beat until smooth.

Gradually add another 1 1/2 cups of flour until it makes a soft dough. It won’t clean the sides of the bowl.

You can knead by hand on a floured bowl or continue in the mixer, adding about 1/4 cup more flour.

Butter or oil a bowl for the dough to rise. Shape the dough into a ball, plop it in the greased bowl, then turn it over so both sides are greased.

Cover and let rise until doubled. Depending on your room temperature, that could be 2 to 6 hours. It can also rise overnight in the refrigerator.

While the dough rises, make the colored sugar. Add food coloring to three bowls with 1/4 cup sugar each to make yellow (about 6 drops), purple (4 drops each of red and blue), and green (4 drops each yellow and blue) sugars. Stir well, mashing the food coloring against the sides of the bowl to equally distribute the color. Let dry, then stir to loosen sugar.

When the dough has doubled, tip it out onto a floured work surface. Dust the top with flour and roll to about a 20-by-12-inch rectangle.

Spread the dough with the butter, leaving an inch border at the top and bottom. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle it evenly over the buttered dough. Roll the dough fairly snugly from one long side, tucking the pecan half in as you roll. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, seam side down, and curl it around to make an oval. Leave the center open. Pinch the ends together to seal them.

Cover and let rise until doubled again, another hour or so.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake the cake about 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool on a rack. (Grab a corner of the parchment paper and slide it and the cake together onto the rack.)

Make the glaze by mixing sugar and butter. Thin, if needed, with milk. It should be able to flow a bit down the sides of the cake but still be thick enough to make a good coat.

When at room temperature, glaze the cake, then sprinkle it with bands of colored sugar.