King Cake is actually not a cake at all. The only way to describe it for those who haven't had one is that it is kind of like a giant cinnamon roll shaped in a ring and covered with icing and sugars in the mardi gras colors - purple, green and gold. It is the food most associated with Mardi Gras. There is a wonderful history behind the King Cake, which is summarized nicely by Nola.com here: Brief history of the King Cake
Traditionally there is a little baby hidden within the cake. The person who gets the baby has to buy the next cake or some say, host next year's party. Getting the baby is also supposed to be lucky. If you want to put a baby in your cake, you can buy little plastic or ceramic ones at most party stores or online. (Ceramic can be baked in, plastic ones should be inserted through the bottom of the cake after it is baked).
This King Cake Recipe supposedly comes from the famous Bakery Haydel's in New Orleans, which is known for being one of the top King Cake bakeries. I cannot swear that it is in fact Haydel's recipe, but it is good!
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
½ cup all purpose shortening
4 cups all purpose flour
2 lg. eggs
1 cup milk (room temperature)
2 sm. packs active dry yeast
¼ tsp lemon flavor
¼ tsp orange flavor
¼ tsp vanilla flavor
¼ tsp butter flavor
½ cup canola oil
½ cup cinnamon sugar
In a mixer at first speed combine 1/3 cup granulated sugar, salt, and shortening until well creamed:
Add eggs and continue to cream. In a separate bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk and add the flavors. Once dissolved add to creamed mixture and continue to mix. Switch to your dough hook attachment and add flour and mix until dough tightens:
Remove from mixer and kneed into a ball. Place the ball in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest in a warm place for 1½ hours.
(While the dough is resting you can mix your colored sugars if you are making them instead of using pre-colored sugars - See below for directions).
When dough has rested roll out into an oblong piece. Brush on canola oil covering the entire piece:
Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar liberally over the whole piece.
Once the dough is covered with the cinnamon sugar and oil, fold it in half lengthwise:
Cut into 3 strips and braid the dough.
Gently roll the dough, (kind of smooshing it into itself) by starting at one end and working all the way down to the other end:
This long piece can then be shaped into a ring like this:
Once shaped place on a baking pan covered with piece of parchment.
Place in a warm area covered with a clean kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rest again until it doubles in size.
You can sprinkle the sugars directly onto the dough before baking, or you can bake it first and then top with the icing and sugars. Make sure to alternate the three colors.
Bake at 370 degrees F for 12-15 minutes until dough is golden brown.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!
How to Make your own Colored Sugar:
3 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp purple food color (try 2 drops red to one drop blue and adjust as needed)
1 tsp yellow food color
1 tsp green food color
Note: liquid colors work best for this, not professional paste colors.
Start by taking one cup of sugar and your yellow food coloring.
Mix by hand with a wire wisk in a metal bowl until the sugar turns yellow.
Pour you yellow sugar into a separate bowl and put off to the side.
Repeat this process mixing green then purple. (By doing them in that order you only dirty one mixingbowl)