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Mardi Gras King Cake

Servings: 12
King Cake History

An observer once said that New Orleanians are either having a party, recuperating from a party, or planning a party. The biggest and best party of all and the city's most famous celebration is Mardi Gras, "the greatest free show on earth." Mardi Gras dates back to 1837 when the first street parade took place.

The carnival season begins January 6th (12 days after Christmas) on Twelfth Night with the first of nearly 100 private masked balls. The dazzling Mardi Gras parades feature marching bands and elaborate paper mache floats with maskers tossing trinkets, beads and doubloons to the crowds.

On Mardi Gras Day, the day before Ash Wednesday, the largest and longest parades are held. Rex, King of Carnival, is a prominent businessman, chosen by secret committee. His Queen is always a debutante of the current season. On Mardi Gras day, everyone joins in the costuming, young and old alike, resident and tourist.

In European countries, the coming of the wise men bearing gifts to the Christ Child is celebrated twelve days after Christmas. The celebration, called Epiphany, Little Christmas on the Twelfth Night, is a time of exchanging gifts and feasting. All over the world people gather for festive Twelfth Night celebrations. One of the most popular customs is still the baking of a special cake in honor of the three kings..."A King's Cake."

Tradition has now evolved through time to obligate the person who receives the baby (inside every King Cake!) to continue the festivities by hosting another king cake party.

King Cakes were originally a simple ring of dough with little decoration. Now they can be quite elaborate, and fun to make.

The King Cake is usually made with a rich Danish dough, baked and covered with a poured sugar topping and decorated with the traditional Mardi Gras-colored sugars. The end result is a delicious and festive cake in traditional Rex colors: Purple, representing Justice; Green, representing Faith; Gold, representing Power. Hundreds of thousands of King Cakes are consumed at parties every year, making the King Cake another fine Louisiana tradition. A Mardi Gras party just wouldn't be a Mardi Gras party without a King Cake!

2 packages (4 1/2 tsp./0.5 oz./14g) active dry yeast
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick/4 oz./113g) unsalted butter, melted
5 egg yolks
1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/43 degrees C)
4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Vegetable oil
8 ounces cream cheese
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar (icing or powdered sugar)
Juice from 1 fresh lemon
2 tablespoons milk
Purple, green and gold sugar sprinkles
Plastic Baby Toy (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C.

For The Cake:
Combine the yeast, sugar, butter, and egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the milk. With the mixer on low speed, beat the mixture for about 4 minutes to dissolve the yeast. If the yeast mixture doesn't begin to foam after a few minutes, it means it's not active and will have to be replaced.

In a separate large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest. Add this mixture to the yeast mixture. Mix on low speed until it lightly comes together, then increase the speed to medium and beat until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl, forms a ball, and climbs slightly up the dough hook.

Remove the dough from the bowl. Coat the dough with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, set in a warm, draft-free place, and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

For The Filling:
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Mix well and set aside.

For The Sugar Glaze:
In another small bowl, combine the remaining powdered sugar, lemon juice and milk. Mix well and set aside.

After the First Dough Rising:
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Roll the dough out 30 inches long and 6 inches in diameter. Spread the cream cheese filling across the center of the dough. Bring the two long edges together and seal all sides completely. Using your hands shape the dough into a long cylinder and place on a greased baking sheet, seam side down. Shape the dough into a ring. Place a well-greased 2 pound coffee can or shortening can in the center of the ring to maintain the shape during baking.

The Second Dough Rising:
Press the plastic baby toy (optional) into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough. Cover the ring with a towel and place in a warm, draft free place. Let the dough rise for about 45 minutes or until the dough doubles in size.

Baking the Cake:
With a sharp knife, make several slits around the top of the ring. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. After baking remove the coffee can immediately. Allow the cake to cool. Drizzle the cake with the sugar glaze that you have set aside. Sprinkle the cake with sprinkles, alternating colors. Cut the cake into individual pieces and serve.

Makes 12 servings

Prep Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
Bake Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Source: Emeril Lagasse
Date: March 9, 2003