Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Two Broads Baking: King Cake!

For the past couple months, I've had a regular, once a month girlfriend date with my best blogging buddy Sara of I Like To Cook. The only thing is... we live on opposite sides of the North American continent. Sara lives in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada and I live in Norwalk, Connecticut. So we use Yahoo IM and just chat up a storm!

We dish about our lives, our blogs, and gossip a bit. We complain about not having enough time to do the really fun things in life like hang out with our families, eat and bake because we have to do the "earn a living" thing. We share pictures of what ever we are making so we can compare where we are in the recipe, what the weather is like out our back doors, the cows that inhabit Sara's backyard (they are HUGE). You know.... girl stuff!

This month, since it is Mardi Gras time, I wanted to bake a King Cake.

In New Orleans, the Mardi Gras season begins on January 6 and continues until Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. It is during this time of the year that the King Cake makes its appearance in every bakery. According to the website, Holidays.Net, the New Orleans tradition, began in the 1870s as a way to celebrate the Epiphany. It is baked in an oval, like a crown to honor the three Kings who brought the baby Jesus gifts and to show unity between all faiths. A small baby is baked into the cake to symbolize Jesus and then the cake is decorated with the traditional Mardi Gras colours: purple, green and gold. Depending on where you get your information, the purple symbolizes justice, the green faith, and the gold power. The cake is served at all types of functions through out the Mardi Gras season and the person who finds the baby in their slice is said to be "king for the day", will have good luck through the year, and is responsible for bringing the King Cake next year.

The recipe we decided to use was a recipe from one of the celebrity chefs of New Orleans, Emeril Lagasse. The recipe makes enough dough for either one large King Cake or two small King Cakes. This dough was an interesting challenge for me. Normally, I have absolutely no trouble with any type of yeast dough but I guess every once in a while, even a yeast Jedi Master like myself needs to be reminded that yeast is a living and breathing thing. Because this dough gave me nothing but trouble.

First it was a very, very dry dough. I should have stuck with my gut instincts when I put my hands in to knead it together and felt how dry it was. I should have added a little more milk into it, like Sara did. But, since I had never made a King Cake before and had no idea what the dough should feel like, I wanted to follow the recipe as written. I also know that during their rising, yeast doughs take on different textures so I wanted to see what developed. After the first rise, it was moister but still slightly crumbly. The dough however had a wonderfully intoxicating spicy smell from the lemon and nutmeg. Time to form the cakes!

First, I divided the dough into two equal portions. Then I rolled each one out in a 16 x 6 rectangle. This dough was a tough dough. It had a lot of tightness in it that I think was mostly owing to being too dry. It was a great upper arm workout. Then, I spread my filling (raspberry and cream cheese) onto the dough, leaving a 2" border so when I rolled it the filling wouldn't squish out the end.

Now roll it up and it was time to tuck the baby into the cake!

Form the circle and seal it up

and let it rise to double. It was during the second rise that the dryness of the dough really showed itself. The dough started to crack and wouldn't hold its seal, no matter how much egg white or water I brushed or how I pinched. I had a dough blow out!! But onward I pressed, because I had promised King Cakes to the office and the gym and I didn't have time to start over! During the baking, I didn't have as much oozing as I expected

but I did show that I am a klutz in the kitchen by burning myself on the oven when I reached in to grab the first one out. Then, like a first time baker, I decided to taste the still hot oozed filling from the pan and burnt my finger and the roof of my mouth. Who was that person in the kitchen??!!

Anyways, even with all the problems with the dough, the cakes still turned out lovely.

They were tasty and not overly sweet. I loved the combination of the lemon frosting and the raspberry cream cheese filling. Best of all I loved all the fun everyone at both my office and the gym had trying to find the baby and getting their beads!

Thanks Sara for the best way to spend a cold and rainy Sunday I can think of and I can't wait for next month's play date!!

To see how my baking buddy, Sara did, check out her post here.

Emeril's King Cake

Ingredients needed:
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup warm milk (about 110ºF) (Note: I would add about 3 - 4 Tbsp more milk, one at a time, if the dough feels dry)
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
5 cups bleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 plastic king cake baby or a pecan half
5 tablespoons milk, at room temperature
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Purple-, green-, and gold-tinted sugar sprinkles

Combine the yeast, granulated sugar and warm milk in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Beat at low speed with the whisk attachment for 30 seconds, then turn mixer off and allow the mixture to sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the melted butter and the egg yolks to the milk and whip quickly to incorporate. Replace the whisk attachment with the dough hook. Add the flour, salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest to the mixer and beat until everything is incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, forms a ball, and starts to climb up the dough hook.

Remove the dough from the bowl. Using your hands, form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a medium bowl with the vegetable oil. Place the dough in the oiled bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar. Blend by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed. Set aside.

Line a large (12- by 17-inch) baking sheet with parchment paper.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your fingers, pat it out into a rectangle about 30 inches long and 6 inches wide.

Spread the filling evenly along one of the long sides of the dough. Fold the other long edge over so that the long edges meet. Seal the dough on all edges by pinching the dough together. Finally, bring the two ends (of what should now be a long, filled cylinder of dough) together, and pinch the ends together to form a ring. Place the filled dough onto the prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Insert the king cake baby or pecan half into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough.

Cover the ring with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Brush the top of the risen dough with 2 tablespoons of the milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the icing. Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons milk, the lemon juice, and the remaining 3 cups confectioners’ sugar in medium mixing bowl. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake (or drizzle, as desired.) Sprinkle with the sugar crystals, alternating colors around the cake.

The cake is traditionally cut into 2-inch-thick slices and served to all guests in attendance. The person whose piece contains the hidden plastic baby is crowned “king for a day” and is considered responsible for holding the next King Cake party.

Yield: 20 to 22 servings