King Cake is a traditional pastry served for the celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It is made with a rich bread dough that is filled with a cinnamon mixture and braided into a ring. It is typically frosted, and adorned with purple, yellow and green (purple to represent justice, green to represent faith, and gold to represent power). These days, there are a lot of variations out there and you can find King Cakes that are also filled with cream cheese, praline and jam – a lot like danishes. Traditional king cake is not all that simple to make, just because it involves a lot of active time working with the dough. I wanted to streamline the process a little and made a non-traditional King Cake that involves no kneading of the dough.
My king cake starts off as a challah-like bread, enriched with vegetable oil and eggs. I added some sugar into my bread to sweeten it, and a bit of vanilla to give it a little more flavor. This bread only has one rise, so once it is mixed up, it can go directly into the baking pan. Again, I simplified the step of producing a ring-shaped cake by using a bundt pan. The dough rises right in the pan and goes into the oven without ever having to get flour on your hands. The cream cheese filling is one that I modified from a filling Cookie Madness used to make a cream cheese filling for a bundt cake. The filling is mixed up and spread into the unrisen dough. The cake rises and bakes right around it!
The bread/cake of the king cake is soft and sweet, with a tight crumb that looks almost like that of a pound cake, although it is much more like a sweet bread than your typical cake. The flavor of the filling is wonderful; the white chocolate and cream cheese combine to taste just like a little bit of cheesecake. It matches really well with the bread and keeps everything moist. The colored icing on top of the cake is an ultra-simple mixture of confectioners’ sugar, water and food coloring. It does add a bit of sweetness to the outside of the bread, which is nice, and gives the cake its unmistakable King Cake look.
Mardi Gras starts on Fat Tuesday (tomorrow!) and, if you’ve never had or baked a King Cake before, there is no time like the present to start. Traditionalists will note that I left the baby out of my king cake. Feel free to stick it in when you’re done baking.
Easy King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (.25-oz)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk (any kind), warm (100-110F)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup white chocolate, melted
8-oz cream cheese, room temperature
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Grease a 10-inch bundt pan well with butter or vegetable oil/cooking spray.
In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine 3/4 cup flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Stir to combine.
Add in warm milk and oil, then beat mixture for 2 minutes at medium speed. The paddle attachment works the best for this recipe. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, waiting until each has been fully incorporated to add the next. Add in the vanilla extract and an additional 1/2 cup of flour and beat for 2 more minutes at medium-high speed.
Stir in all remaining flour (creating a thick batter, rather than a standard dough), then cover the bowl and let rest for 10 minutes while you make the filling.
For the filling, beat together melted white chocolate, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl at high speed until smooth and fluffy.
Pour about half of the dough into the prepared bundt pan. Using a spoon, add dollops of cream cheese filling to the pan to create a ring in the middle of the bread dough. Pour remaining batter into pan, trying to cover most or all of the cream cheese filling. The batter will not be very high in the pan at this point. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F.
Bake king cake for 30 minutes. Bread will be golden and should spring back when lightly touched.
Turn cake out of pan onto a wire cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.
King Cake Icing
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3-4 tbsp water
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
Place 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar into each of three small bowls. Add a tablespoon of water and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract to each, along with food coloring to dye each bowl one color: purple, yellow and green. Stir well, until icing is smooth and thick, but not stiff.
Pour icing over cooled King Cake.