I walked into the grocery store and it hit me: not only is there no gaudy display of King Cakes, plastic babies and shiny beads—there’s no King Cake in the bakery section at all. What. And they call this the South.
Well you know what? The one-fifth of my life I’ve spent in Pensacola manifested itself thusly: I hollered to my kids, got our behinds in the kitchen, and we baked ourselves a King Cake!
King Cakes are maybe the best thing about January and February EXCEPT HANNAH’S BIRTHDAY. Mardi Gras season starts on Epiphany and lasts until Lent begins. Mardi Gras this year is February 17.
King Cakes celebrate the Magi’s search for Jesus with a plastic baby hidden inside to grant luck to whoever finds it (without breaking a tooth). Perfect for an afternoon’s activity with a live baby and tot!
As I’ve mentioned, Isaac LOVES baking. He likes to work the mixer, play with water in the sink “washing dishes” (which is actually pretty helpful), sit on the counter, scoop flour, taste the sugar, and generally check the dough a lot to make sure it’s good.
We cooked up a traditional cream cheese-filled version. This recipe uses a lot of yeast and requires a fair amount of rising time, so factor that into your dessert timing. We ended up letting Isaac stay up until 9pm so he could taste the fruits of his labor. And we’d started it right after naptime around 3:30pm.
As for pairings, you could always enjoy it with coffee and chicory from Café du Monde. I liked it with the French tea company Janat’s Everest Chai Tea, a very strong black tea that I impulse purchased because it had a cat and a world map on the tin. Since I was sharing this pot of chai with Chris, I was liberal with the milk and dumped in scoop after scoop of brown sugar. He loved it.
And while the first cake turned out a bit wonky (this recipe makes two cakes), the second is the picture of perfection! As always, with this recipe I measure things like yeast (science!) but guesstimate and substitute the other ingredients (art!).
2 cups Greek yogurt or sour cream (all I had was honey-flavored Greek yogurt. Yum!)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs lightly beaten
4.5 teaspoons (or 2 pkgs) active dry yeast, dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water with 1 T brown sugar)
6 cups flour
Mix all the stuff together until smooth, adding the flour a little at a time to make sure it’s not dry. Knead for 10 minutes, until stretchy and elastic. My dough was on the very sticky side. Put it in a buttered bowl, cover, let rise 1-2 hours. Punch down (Isaac’s favorite part after tasting. He kept looking at me like “am I really allowed to be doing this??”). Divide dough in half and flatten between sheets of parchment paper (Isaac also liked this part. Whack whack!). Ours was super sticky, so the paper was absolutely crucial. Plus I don’t have a rolling pin. The pretty, plump cake dough measured about 14×10 at this stage. Remove the top piece of parchment paper before topping the dough with:
Kid Cream Filling:
2 packages (8oz each) softened cream cheese
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Mix it up! Divide in half and spread onto each dough rectangle.
Roll the dough like a jelly roll, then shape it into a circle. Let it rise another 30 minutes. Bake cakes separately, about 15 minutes at 375 degrees F.
When it comes out all toasty golden and looking awesome, make it look even more heavenly with this:
Sweet Baby Glaze:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 Tablespoons milk (as needed)
While I mixed that up and poured it on top (half on each cake, of course), Chris and Isaac dyed sugar crystals green (faith), purple (justice), and yellow (power).
“But did you put one of those plastic babies in it?” Chris asked.
“Noooo,” I realized. “But I did lose a lemon seed in the glaze! That can be the baby.”
Chris rolled his eyes. The next day at tea time Chris frowned and reached into his mouth. “What is THIS?!”
“Hey! Did you find the lemon-seed-baby? Yay! You get to make the next cake!”
More eye-rolling. I get that a lot.