As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I used to live in Louisiana. I’ve also mentioned how much I absolutely love it, but I’m just going to tell you again. It has got to be the most cultural place in America. It’s the kind of place where you go to take your trash out and end up spending the evening sharing a beer with your neighbor as you sit on the sidewalk. It’s also the kind of place where any excuse to celebrate is not taken for granted. Pretty sure there is no other place in America that gets a whole week off school in the middle of February. And most importantly, it’s the kind of place that seriously knows good food. King cake is no exception.
Now originally king cake was a rather plain cake filled with cinnamon and sugar, and the toppings were the really delicious part; but as we tend to do in America, we have made it more and more gluttonous over the years. Nowadays even the most famous bakeries like Gambino’s , serve cream cheese filled king cake as their “simple” selection. I’ve also heard that the bread has gotten much sweeter over the years, but I’m not complaining. This was a delicious and pretty simple recipe, even though I managed to mess it up a bit. There are quite a few steps, but each of them takes less than 20 minutes of hands on time. The problem I ran into was that I attempted to roll the dough into a huge rectangle, which made for a huge mess when I went to fill it with the cream cheese filling, but I have adapted the instructions below to make for an easier outcome. Other than that, this recipe really surprised me with how easy, and pretty much foolproof it was. I promise if you make it as soon as you get home from work, you will still be able to eat it for Fat Tuesday!
King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling
Makes 1 round king cake, about 10 servings
- 2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 ounces sour cream
- ¼ cup + 1 T. granulated sugar, divided
- Pinch of salt
- 1 package (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
- ¼ cup warm milk (between 100 and 110 degrees)
- 1 egg
- 3 to 3½ cups all-purpose flour
- Oil for your hands and the bowl
- 8-ounce package cream cheese
- 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
- 3 tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- 4 tablespoons whole milk
- Pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, separated into 3 bowls
- yellow, green, and purple (or blue + red) food coloring
- Bean/plastic baby for tradition
1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the butter, 1/4 c. of sugar and salt. Stir. Once butter has melted, add the sour cream and heat until lukewarm. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, add ¼ cup warm water, yeast, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar; stir. Allow the yeast to sit for about five minutes until it bubbles and becomes active.
2. Once the yeast is active, whisk in the warm butter/sour cream mixture, the egg, and 1 cup of the flour. Whisk until smooth. Using an oiled wooden spoon, being mixing in small amounts of the remaining flour until you form a soft dough. This will take about another 2 1/4 cups of flour. You want the dough to be tacky, but not sticky.
3. Using the dough hook of a mixing bowl, knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 5-8 minutes, adding flour by the teaspoon if the dough is stickin to the sides of the bowl, more than itself.
4. Place the ball of dough into a large, well-oiled bowl, then flip the dough so all of the surface area of the dough is oiled. Cover the bowl with oiled plastic wrap, then set the bowl in a warm, draft-free area and allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
5. To make the filling: beat together the cream cheese, sugar and flour until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and stir to combine.
6. Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly flour the dough and a rolling pin. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 24 inches long and 6 inches wide.
7. Dollop the filling down the center of the long strip of dough. Then fold each edge up and over the filling till they meet at the top; roll and pinch the edges together, to seal the filling inside as much as possible. Don’t worry about making the seal look perfect; it’ll eventually be hidden by the icing and sugar.
8. Place the log of dough seam side down or to the side onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. (A ring mold would be most helpful for this, but I didn’t have one). into the prepared ring mold, seam down or to the side (just not on top), or onto the baking sheet. The dough will be very extensible, i.e., it’ll stretch as you handle it. So pick it up and position it in the pan quickly and gently. Pinch the ends together to form a ring. Cover and let rise for about an hour, until it’s puffy. Preheat the oven to 350°F while the dough rises.
9. Once risen, bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes. Once golden, remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
10. While the cake is baking, make the sugar. (This can also be made far in advance). Combine 1/2 cup of sugar with a few drops of food coloring and stir continously until desired color is reached. *Gel colors will also work here, but you need to work the color into the sugar by pressing against the bottom of a spoon.
10. Once the cake is mildly cool, it is tradition to poke a small plastic baby, or a dried bean somewhere in the cake. Whoever gets this piece in their cake is supposed to buy/make the king cake for next year.
11. While the cake is cooling, make the icing. Combine all ingredients and whisk until smooth. Pour over the cooled cake. Before the icing has set (ie within 10-15 minutes), sprinkle sugar over the icing in 3 equal portions.
Before you go running away by the long list of seemingly complicated steps that are involved in this recipe, let me tell you a story. I actually did the same thing when I saw Annie‘s post about homemade croissants. I thought to myself, seriously, who has the time (or desire) to do all that! And yet here I am, telling you about homemade croissants. See, a funny thing happened. It was called Christmas vacation. After I saw that homemade croissants made the list of one of Annie’s favorite things from her entire year of hundreds of recipes, I started to think of them in a different light. Then came a whole week of free time and a house full of people to feed on New Years morning, and croissants suddenly started to seem like a good idea. And it turned out to be such a good idea that I felt the need to make them again last weekend. Do they take more time then buying them at the store? Yes. But do they taste like no other baked good you’ve ever made before? Yes.
About half way through making this recipe, I feared the croissants would turn out like those crescent rolls that come in a tube. Then something magical happened in the baking process, and flakey, buttery, French goodness arose. I was so excited watching these puff up and golden in the oven, and I think our guests were even more excited about the final result. Everyone loved these. I can’t wait to make them again in the future. They are best eaten shortly after they come out of the oven, but they are still wonderful the next day (they’d probably last a few more days – if you don’t eat them immediately). While I didn’t include instructions for freezing, I believe the best times to attempt freezing would be after the second lamination of the dough, or after the final shaping of the croissants. If you try this, I would love to know how freezing turned out!
Makes 12 large croissants
For the dough:
- 3 cups (15 oz) all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1¼ tsp. salt
- 1¼ cups whole milk, cold (or use 1 cup skim with 1/4 cup whipping cream)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the butter square:
- 24 T. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces and kept cold
- 2 T. all purpose flour
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
To make the butter square, toss flour and butter together. Using the blade of a large knife or a bench scraper work the butter back and forth until it is smooth and homogenous. It will be sticky. Wrap in plastic wrap, flatten the butter into a 7×7 inch square. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Once the dough has chilled, remove it from the fridge and roll out on a floured work surface into an 11 by 11 inch square. (It may seem small but it will complement the butter square perfectly).
Pinch the dough seems to seal.
Tap the center of the dough square with a rolling pin in order to soften the butter, and roll the dough into a 14 inch square. Make sure to flour the surface as you go so the dough doesn’t stick.
Fold the dough into thirds to form a long rectangle.
Then starting at the short ends, fold the dough again into thirds.
At this point wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours, or longer.
Repeat this process again- roll dough into a 14 inch square, fold into thirds, then fold into thirds again. Rewrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for another 2 hours, or longer. (I usually do the above steps the day before, and save the steps below for the morning in which the croissants will be served. I believe you could stop at this point and freeze the dough, or half of the dough, but I have not tried this myself.)
Remove the folded dough from the fridge and divide in half. (You could also roll the dough into one very large 20×20 inch rectangle but I found half of the dough more manageable)
Roll one of the 2 dough pieces into a 10×20 inch rectangle.
Then cut the 10×20 inch rectangle into thirds, so that each section is just shy of 7 inches. Then cut each rectangle in half diagonally.
Take one triangle, and stretch the dough slightly so that each long side of the triangle is about equal in length. Cut a 1-inch slit in the bottom of the triangle and roll until the tip of the triangle.
Place croissants on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking mat, and fold the edges of the dough next to each other to create a crescent. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, about 45 minutes. At this point preheat the oven to 400°.
Brush croissants with egg wash bake in a preheated oven until the golden brown, about 18-22 minutes, rotating pans half way through baking.