This recipe may seem a little ill-timed, since tonight marks the end of the Carnival season and tomorrow is the beginning of Lent. If you’re making any sort of Lenten resolutions, you probably won’t be baking this any time in the next forty days. However, it was too good not to share, so I thought I’d go ahead and put it out there for you debaucherous souls who might want to give it a go.
Given that today is Mardi Gras, I wanted to treat the family to some traditional gumbo and a Gateau des Roi. I didn’t grow up eating King Cake, or really observing Mardi Gras at all. As such, I have no reference for what makes a good King Cake. As an adult, I’ve seen a number of different (shortcut) variations, including cinnamon roll-based cakes and crescent roll based cakes. While I knew that these recipes that used processed and pre-packaged ingredients were probably not the most traditional versions, they did give me a basic idea of what a King Cake entails – rich buttery dough, stuffed with a sweet filling and topped with a sugary glaze
With some digging, I discovered that traditional King Cake consists of rich brioche bread, filled with cinnamon, almond paste or cream cheese and glazed with simple icing sugar glaze. They are often sprinkled with purple, green and yellow sanding sugar to reflect the colors of Mardi Gras. I figured if I could find a good brioche recipe, the rest would be a piece of cake (ha-ha).
For the brioche recipe, I turned to a trusted and reliable source: Michael Ruhlman. The tagline on Ruhlman’s website is “translating the Chef’s craft for every kitchen,” and he does a skillful job doing just that. His recipes are well tested, and you can be assured that you will find success if you follow his instructions. I knew that any brioche recipe I found on his site would be delightful. When I saw that it called for five whole eggs and twelve ounces of butter (that’s three whole sticks), I figured it could not disappoint.
Since I followed his recipe almost to the letter, I’ll suggest that you click on over to his site if you want to make it. I did substitute freshly ground hard white wheat flour for the bread flour that he suggests and I used honey granules in place of the sugar. I also shortened the second rise, choosing to let the dough rise in a warm oven for one hour instead of in the refrigerator overnight.
To make the brioche into a King Cake, I made a cream cheese filling, combining eight ounces of cream cheese, 1/2 cup of honey granules, one large egg, three tablespoons of flour and the zest of one lemon. I beat this all together until it was smooth. After the dough had risen the first time (and doubled in volume – this took approximately three hours at room temperature), I punched it down and rolled it out into a long, thin rectangle. I spread the filling evenly onto the rectangle and folded the dough over onto itself, pinching the edges to seal the filling inside. I then formed it into a ring and placed it in a greased tube pan. I covered it with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm oven (preheated to 150F, then turned off) for about an hour.
To bake it off, I preheated the oven to 350F, baked the cake for 20 minutes uncovered, then 25 minutes tented with parchment paper (to keep it from getting too brown). Once it was fully baked, I removed it from the oven, turned it out onto a cooling rack and allowed it to cool completely.
For the glaze, I combined 2 cups of powdered sugar with a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream, stirring to combine. I added a 1/2 a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, then glazed the cake once it had cooled completely.
Even if you don’t make a king cake, I highly recommend this brioche recipe – it practically melts in your mouth it’s so buttery. I can imagine using it for breakfast in french toast, or making a decadent croque-monsieur (or even more decadent croque-madame) with it. In this instance, stuffed (albeit unevenly) with slightly sweet cream cheese and smothered with creamy vanilla glaze, it was the perfect way to top off our family Fat Tuesday celebration.
Now, what to do with the leftovers tomorrow?