When people say King Cake, most think of Mardi Gras, but my family traditionally uses this cake to mark the Solemnity of the Epiphany (Jan 6). Calling it a cake is a bit of a misnomer. The king "cake" is a braided cinnamon roll decorated with icing and colored sugars. There is a plastic baby hidden inside to which the receiver of the piece with the baby gets some sort of recognition or obligation. In my home, the child who finds it is the "queen" or "king" for the day.
You can use any cinnamon roll recipe to make this. My dough recipe is below. (my first job was at a cinnamon bun store!). This dough is also good to make dinner rolls with.
Dough for cinnamon buns.
8 oz. 80 degree water
3 cups bread flour
2 TB Bisquick or dry milk powder (if omitted, replace with 2 TB flour)
3 1/2 TB sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 TB butter
1 1/2 tsp. yeast
brown sugar (light or dark)
Icing and decorations:
any kind of vanilla or cream cheese icing. Store bought works too.
Green, yellow, and purple colored sugars
Small plastic baby (Wilton sells these in the baking supplies)
Step 1: Mix Up the Dough
Put the water in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the top. You can wait 10 minutes for it to bloom, but I go ahead and dump in the rest of the ingredients and mix them up until the flour is shaggy looking like in the photo. Turn the dough out onto a lightly flour dusted surface. Wash and dry your mixing bowl, you're going to use it later.
Note: If you are using your bread maker to knead the dough, put the ingredients in the bread pan in the order listed in the recipe. Make a little well in the flour for the yeast and push the butter into the corners. Set the cycle to dough and go read a book until it's time to shape the dough.
Step 2: Kneading and 1st Rise.
Knead your shaggy dough. It takes about ten minutes by hand, 7 or 8 with a stand mixer. When you've finished, form it into a ball.
Butter or lightly oil your mixing bowl. Put the dough ball inside and turn to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl and set it in a warm place to rise. This takes about an hour.
Step 3: Shaping the Dough
When your dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto the counter and shape it into a rectangle.
Roll out the dough to make a long rectangle. I use my rolling pin as a guide.
Step 4: Butter, Brown Sugar, Cinnamon, Granulated Sugar.
Slather your dough with soft butter. I go almost up to the edges.
Dump brown sugar on the buttered dough and spread it out with your hands to cover the butter. I used about 2/3 cup.
Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the brown sugar. The more granulated sugar you use, the more syrupy your king cake will be. Some will ooze out while baking.
Note: There really is not much measuring here. When I worked at the cinnamon bun shop, we scooped ingredients from bins and didn't measure. Everyone had turns at making the cinnamon sugar, so it was never the same twice. Basically, however you'd mix your cinnamon sugar at home for toast, that will work with cinnamon buns.
Step 5: You're on a Roll!
I was inspired by a churro I had from Costco yesterday, so I decided to make my king cake a twist this year. Alternately, you can make a braid and I will explain that in a note below.
Slice the dough in half, lengthwise so that you have two long rectangles.
Then working from the cut edge, begin rolling the dough by folding and pinching the edge over to get it started. I work from left to right because I'm right handed. Fold, pinch, fold, pinch, etc. Once you've done this along the edge, you should be able to roll it up completely.
Do the same thing to the other half of dough so that you have two long, skinny ropes of cinnamon deliciousness.
Note: To make a braid, you can cut the dough lengthwise into thirds and either roll each section up like above, then braid them, or simply braid them without rolling.
Step 6: Let's Do the Twist
Lay one end on top of the other and gently twist the ropes together.
Bring the ends together to form the classic turban shape and tuck the ends under. They may pop out during rising and baking. It is what it is.
Place it on a sheet pan, and put it in a warm place to do the 2nd rise. This should take about thirty minutes.
Step 7: Bake and Decorate!
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for 15 - 20 minutes.
You can test for doneness by looking inside. If you lift the bread with a knife and the stuff inside stretches and looks doughy and wet, it isn't done yet. Put it back in for a few more minutes and check again. If the stuff inside looks like sandwich bread, dry and airy, then it is done! Take it out of the oven.
You can ice this while hot or wait for it to cool. If you ice while hot, the icing will take on a clear, glaze like finish. If you ice them when they are room temperature, the icing will stay white.
You can use any sort of vanilla icing. I simply put some powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract in a bowl and mixed it up.
Hide a plastic baby inside the cake (or under it), then frost it and sprinkle on the colored sugars. The colors are particular because each one represents a gift of the magi.
Yellow - gold
Green - frankincense
Purple - myrrh
When you serve your King Cake, warn your guests about the freaked out baby inside (choking hazard). The plastic baby is a modern addition obviously. If you don't like the idea of that being in the cake, there is another option you can use. Traditionally a dried bean or nut was used to represent the baby instead.