King Cake Baking in the Land of Little Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras Mobile Alabama
Mobile Mardi Gras poster. Wikimedia image. Credit: trobridge & Co. Lithographers, Cincinnati & New York.

While this week has left me bummed I’ll miss another year of Alabama Mardi Gras, Denver isn’t a total desert when it comes to Mardi Gras festivities. A new New Orleans restaurant, Krewe Crescent City BBQ, opened recently downtown, promising not only shrimp po-boys and fried okra but also a new place to celebrate Mardi Gras season. Several local organizations and restaurants are celebrating Mardi Gras this year, but Krewe’s Saturday All-You-Can-Eat Crawfish Mardi Gras party gets my vote. (The crawfish boil starts at 6pm.)

I don’t usually support all-you-can-eat affairs (I ate at a ALOT of family-style buffets when I was a kid and even worked the breakfast buffet shift at one of them. Nothing like watching where most buffet food comes from to swear you off that scoop of mashed “potatoes” and fried “chicken.) But I make an exception for all-you-can-eat when the cuisine in question, such as seafood, would be cost-prohibitive if I ate my fill.

crawfish boil
Crawfish Boil. Credit: zacearly. Wikimedia image.

If you’re angling to try out a crawfish boil in your neck of the woods, look for all-you-can eat affairs. Most of the critter is not edible, so if you pay by the number of crawfish or by weight, you’ll go broke fast, especially in an interior U.S. state like Colorado where local seafood means having it shipped from the West Coast or all the way from Gulf Coast Texas.

Whether you’ll be lining the streets of Mobile or New Orleans for Mardi Gras weekend parades and block parties or you’re just learning about this colorful cultural celebration from the comfort of your Mardi Gras desert of a city, digging into a slice of Mardi Gras King Cake is a delicious way to bring the celebration home.

King cakes have always held intrigue and mystery for me. Seasonal, brioche-style cake laced with cinnamon sugar, nuts, and raisins and topped with colorful sugar glaze, the king cake was a special treat every winter in my family.

King Cake Baby. Credit: the Sketchpad. Creative Commons Image.
King Cake Baby. Credit: the Sketchpad. Creative Commons Image.

Just as important, inside the cake hides a small plastic baby figurine. Common tradition is that whoever receives the cake slice with the plastic baby is the person who gets to host the Mardi Gras party the following year.

However, representative of the intense sibling rivalry between my brother and me, in my family whoever received the slice with the baby would get the first slice of king cake the following year. And we’d have the glory of beating the other sibling, with the added benefit of curating our slow-growing plastic baby figurines treasure to lord over the less lucky brother or sister. Ah, family.

Last weekend was my first attempt at bringing some Mardi Gras cheer to our new home in the form of cake. Below you’ll find a winning Mardi Gras King Cake recipe that was very easy to make and yielded ridiculously delicious results. I brought most of the cake to work on Monday, and it was gone in less than two hours.

easy to make king cake recipe
Image by author.

Mardi Gras King Cake (adapted from an creation)
Makes 1 King Cake

– 1/2 cup milk
– 2 tablespoons butter
– 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast, or 2 1/2 tsp
– 1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
– 1/4 cup white sugar
– 1 egg
– 3/4 teaspoon salt
– 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
– 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

– 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
– 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
– 1/3 cup chopped pecans
– 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/4 cup raisins
– 1/4 cup melted butter

– 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
– 1 to 1 1/2 tsp water
– 1 TBS water

king cake recipe
Image by author.

1. Scald milk, remove from heat, and stir in 2 TBS of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tsp of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

2. When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the egg. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt, and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. (I used my stand mixer with the paddle attachment to beat in the flour until the dough pulled together. Then I replaced the paddle with the dough hook and let the hook do its magic on the “2” setting for about 2 minutes.)

Mardi Gras King Cake
Image by author.

3. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down dough in.

4. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

5. While the oven is preheating, make the filling. Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.

6. Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10×16 inches or so). Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of the roll together to form an oval-shaped ring.

Mardi Gras King Cake
Image by author.

7. Place the ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

8. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes until golden brown. If browning too quickly, place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top of the cake while it finishes baking.

Mardi Gras King Cake
Image by author.

9. If you have the plastic doll, push it into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm with the confectioners’ sugar blended with 1 TBS water.

King Cake Recipe
Image by author.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. EDW says:

    All I can say is, HELL YES. This cake looks gorgeous. I want to eat your photos!

    1. gwynnem says:

      The mark of a good food photo, right? πŸ™‚ Thanks, Emily! Miss you, gal.

  2. Cathy says:

    Yummy! The pastry part of this recipe is remarkably similar to a traditional yeast cake here, made all year though and not just for carnival. The filling sounds so tasty! Have a great weekend!

    1. gwynnem says:

      Oh! What’s the name of that recipe? I’d love to check it out.

      1. Cathy says:

        In our area they are called Rohrnudeln, but some people call them Buchteln. They are slightly sweet and bun-like. I’ll have to post my recipe one day!

  3. That sounds pretty amazing. I do like brioche, but I’ve never had anything quite like yours before!

    1. gwynnem says:

      Thanks, Johnny Hepburn. It’s brioche meets cinnamon roll. A winning combo for me. πŸ™‚

  4. Gwynnem, Your cake is amazingly beautiful. I shall give it a try one of these days! πŸ˜›

    1. gwynnem says:

      Thank you, Fae. I need a sprinkle of bright color during this time of year in CO. πŸ™‚

  5. afracooking says:

    Oh how sparkl, cute – perfect for Mardi Gras!

    1. gwynnem says:

      Thanks, afracooking. I’m making another one to share for tomorrow, official Mardi Gras. πŸ™‚

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