King Cake is a must for any Mardi Gras celebration. It's a tried and true tradition that is as delicious as it is fun! This scrumptiously regal treat may take some time but it is well worth the wait! Baking with your kids is a great way to teach them measurement and organization skills and it gives them great practice following directions! Spend an afternoon with your child in the kitchen and teach her some Mardi Gras history and some King Cake fun facts as you celebrate the holiday! Nothing beats this sweet lesson in Mardi Gras tradition.
Note: You can buy colored sugar from your grocery store or cake supply store, or you can color your own using food coloring and regular white granulated sugar. Simply place about 1/2 cup of sugar each in three separate bowls (ones that are ok to stain if it happens) and squeeze a few drops of food coloring of each of your colors in each bowl. Combine thoroughly until you've created your very own colored sugar in Mardi Gras colors!
What You Do:
- In a small bowl, combine the yeast, warm water and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Set it aside in a warm place for 10 minutes.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, ½ cup sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
- In another small bowl, combine the eggs, applesauce, warm milk and lemon zest.
- Add the yeast mixture to the egg mixture and combine briefly.
- Slowly add that mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well until everything is fully combined to make a dough. Be sure you do not over mix the dough.
- Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead it, adding more flour as needed so that the dough is not sticky and moves easily on the kneading surface.
- Put the dough into a greased bowl (you can use butter, shortening or cooking spray), cover with plastic wrap and keep in a warm place for two hours. This will allow the dough to rise - a very important step!
- At some point during the two hours, you can prepare the cream cheese filling. Combine the softened cream cheese and sugar in a bowl. Set it aside.
- After the dough has rested for two hours, punch the dough down and place it onto a floured surface.
- Shape the dough into a long, flat rectangle.
- Along one half of the dough’s length, spread the cream cheese mixture evenly.
- Fold the other half over the bottom half (the one that is covered in cream cheese) and pinch to seal the edges so you cannot see the cream cheese filling.
- Place the dough onto a greased baking sheet and shape it into a ring. It’s okay if you have excess dough, you can coil it around the ring and pinch to seal the edges.
- Cover the dough with a wet towel and let it rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
- After the dough has risen a final time for one hour, bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the cake is golden brown.
- Once your cake is done, set is aside to let it cool. When it is cool enough to handle, insert the small baby or other trinket through the bottom of the cake, placing it somewhere in the ring. Or, you can use half a pecan or dried bean tucked inside the cake instead. Continue to let the cake cool.
- Prepare the glaze by combining the powdered sugar, lemon juice and water in a small bowl. Set it aside.
- Once the cake is completely cool, pour the glaze over the cake. Using a pastry or basting brush can help coat the cake well and distribute the icing more evenly.
- Sprinkle your colored sugar on the icing while it is wet, alternating the colors in small segments. It doesn’t have to be precise, just eyeball it.
- Voila! Serve slices to your guests and see who gets the baby! Tradition says that whoever finds it will receive good luck. It also means that person is responsible for supplying the King Cake for the next Mardi Gras party!
There are different ways to make this cake. In some recipes, the dough is braided and filled with pecans or fruits, and in this variation, it is smooth, dense and has a cream cheese filling. A plastic baby or other small trinkets can be hidden inside. As an alternative to colored sugar you can use icing in purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power) to decorate your cake.
It is said that the King Cake is named after the three wise men in the Bible who brought gifts for the baby Jesus. The toy baby tucked inside the cake represents the baby Jesus. The Three King’s journey to Bethlehem took twelve days, also known as the Twelve Days of Christmas. The coming of the three kings is celebrated on the twelfth night after Christmas, also known as the Feast of the Epiphany. Traditionally, King Cakes are to be enjoyed from the twelfth night up until Mardi Gras.