Make your own braided version of the traditional Mardi Gras King cake with colorful icing, cinnamon sugar filling and a tiny good luck toy tucked inside.
It’s Mardi Gras season again and one of the big traditions is the King Cake. This sugary sweet pastry is loaded with cinnamon and topped with yellow, green and purple colored sugar. It’s also traditional to put a tiny plastic baby inside the cake once it’s been baked. Whoever gets the baby has to buy the king cake next year.
I varied my recipe a bit by using creamed cheese in the dough mixture, something my mom does with her pie pastry. I also formed three long ‘ropes’ of dough, each filled with cinnamon and sugar, braided them together, and then formed them into a circle. This recipe takes a bit of time but it’s well worth it!
Mardi Gras King Cake Recipe
1/2 cu Water 105-110 degrees F
1 pkg Active Dry yeast
2 tbl Sugar
2 tbl All Purpose Flour
4 tbl Butter
4 tbl Cream Cheese
1/4 cu Skim Milk
3 1/2 - 4 cu Flour (plus extra for kneading)
2 lg Eggs, slightly beaten, room temperature
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tbl Cinnamon
1/2 cu Sugar
3 tbl Butter, melted
2 cu Powdered Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
4 tbl Skim Milk
1 1/2 cu Sugar
3 Sealable Plastic Bags or Containers
12 Drops Yellow Food Coloring
12 Drops Green Food Coloring
10 Drops Red Food Coloring
6 Drops Blue Food Coloring
1" Plastic Baby Toy (optional, can be found at party supply stores in baby shower accessories)
Place yeast, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of flour in a medium sized bowl and stir to combine. Be sure that water is between 105 and 110 degrees F and pour it over mixture. Stir to combine and set aside for 10 minutes.
Mix butter, cream cheese and milk in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Stir and mash the cream cheese until all ingredients are smooth and blended together. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Mixture should be cool to room temperature before using.
Combine 3 cups of flour, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add eggs, yeast mixture and cooled butter mixture. Stir to combine. Add additional flour until mixture is tacky but not sticky (you may add as much a 1 full cup). Knead dough for about 10 minutes, adding additional flour if necessary, until smooth. Form dough into a ball.
Butter the bottom and sides of a large bowl. Place dough in bowl and roll it in butter on all sides. Cover with a towel and let dough rise for 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down and then roll it out on a large work surface to form a 20" x 14" rectangle. Cut the rectangle into 3 equal sized long rectangles 20" by about 4 2/3" . Brush the surface with the 3 tablespoons of melted butter. Combine 1 tablespoon of sugar with 1/2 cup of sugar. Sprinkle about a 2" wide line of the mixture down the entire length of each strip along one side. Starting on the sugar coated edge, roll each strip into a 20" long tube. PInch the seams to seal the tube along the length. Laying the three tubes side by side with the seams on the bottom, braid them together. Shape the braided piece into a circle on a baking sheet and pinch together the beginning and end of each tube to form a continuous braid. Cover with a towel and let dough rise for an additional 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Once dough has risen, bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown and cake has a hollow sound when you thump it. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Once the cake has cooled, push the plastic baby into the bottom (optional).
To make colored sugars, please 1/2 cup of granulated sugar in each of three sealable plastic bags (or containers). Add 12 drops of yellow food coloring in one bag. Seal the bag and shake vigorously to evenly color the sugar, being sure to break up any clumps with your fingers. Repeat the process with a second bag using 12 drops of green food coloring. With the last bag, combine 10 drops of red and 6 drops of blue food coloring to create purple. Set sugars aside.
In a medium sized bowl, combine powdered sugar, vanilla and milk. Mixture should be pourable but not runny (a bit thicker than syrup). If it's too thin, add more powdered sugar. Place cooled cake on a wire rack over parchment paper. Using a pastry brush, drizzle and liberally brush the icing on all sides of the cake. Use all of the icing, even though some with drip onto the parchment. Immediately sprinkle sugars over icing in alternating rows of green, yellow and purple.