Tuesday, January 22, 2013

King Cake Kindergarten

Before posting my newest King Cake recipes  (and risk scaring anyone away),
I thought it'd be good to offer a little King Cake 101 for any new initiates.
This is what a vegan Apple Cheezecake King Cake looks like all raring to go.
The King Cake I love (there's a French version that's very different) is eaten in New Orleans, Louisiana throughout the season of Carnival.  Carnival begins every year on Twelfth Night (January 6th) and ends on Mardi Gras Day/Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday when Lent begins).  Even though I no longer live in NOLA, making King Cakes during this season is a ritual that helps me feel closer to the friends, culture and city I miss. 

During Carnival in NOLA, you can find this special cake at all bakeries and stacked tall at the supermarkets, but when I was living there, a vegan version was only available at the Whole Foods up on Magazine Street (made by my awesome vegan pals).  These days I've read about more vegan (and even xgfx) versions popping up around the city.  The more customary flavors of King Cake are lemon, apple, cream cheese, cinnamon, or a simple fruit filling.  Nowadays, you can even find cupcake versions, personal sized minis, and wackier flavors by the slice like "The Elvis" (bacon, marshmallow, banana and peanut butter).  Absolut makes King Cake flavored vodka, too.  So, hopefully a King Cake iced King Cake paired with a King Cake Mojito and/or King Cake agar shots will appear in my near future.

King Cake is made from a rich yeasted dough, similar to a brioche or cinnamon roll dough.  It's rolled out into a large rectangle, filled, formed into a coiled log then shaped into a ring and baked.  Once baked, it's thickly glazed, bedazzled with purple, green and gold sprinkles (the colors of Carnival symbolizing justice, faith and power) and outfitted with a magickal baby (symbolizing Jesus), who resides inside.

Making King Cakes at home is really fun and satisfying.  My favorite part is making them as crazy and over the top as possible, sharing them with friends, showing them off at parties, or peddling them at benefit bakesales.  While they're not too difficult to pull off, they do require a bit of finesse and a whole lot of different parts and steps (sorta like model airplane kits).  I wouldn't ever make one if I were rushed for time, and the xgfx version is even a hair trickier (gluten-free doughs can be bitchy if you're not used to them, as they're more delicate and stickier than traditional wheat doughs).

To give you an ol' project overview, a standard King Cake involves the following:
  1. Prepare dough, filling/s, glaze/icing, sprinkles and procure wee baby and tinfoil covered cardboard tray.
  2. Roll dough, fill, form, bake, insert baby, ice, decorate and transfer to tray.
  3. Wheat version also requires extra time set aside for dough rising.
  4. XGFX version requires some steps applied without breathing, so you might need to train beforehand.   However, any negative effects from oxygen deprivation will surely be repaid tenfold as the gluten-free version is much faster to make than its traditional cousin.  Faster to make = faster to eat.
This is a xgfx Cinnamon Apple Creme King Cake. You must train for its completion. 
Practice tip:  try changing your underwear without breathing and as you get good at this, adding socks and then other under-pinnings.
You can see from the picture, the xgfx King Cake looks a bit more rustic than the one made with wheat.  When you form the ring, you will most likely get a few cracks, and it will definitely crack in the oven, but it will still taste sexellente.  Once you glaze it, Jesus it, and sprinkle it, no one will even notice.  Except for you, because you will be eating King Cake for the first time in maybe ever!

A slice of strawberry cheezecake.  NOT pastrami.
Here's what a slice of King Cake looks like.  I tried hard to find an appropriate inside shot to show off, but apparently, they're hard to come by.  For some reason, the ones I have on my computer are all filled with strawberry cream cheeze, and for some other reason, strawberry cream cheeze King Cake innards look like pastrami.  And, Pastrami, if you don't know, is gross.

This perfectly balanced bean is wearing a diaper. 
All proper King Cakes contain a baby, whether made from bean, plastic or ceramics.
By far, the most frequent King Cake question I'm asked is whether I've ever baked a plastic baby into a cake.  The answer is yes.  Oh yes, I have (without any known repercussions mind you).  I don't do that anymore, but mostly because I've lost all my plastic Jesi (pronounced Geez-eye) and am more mature these years.  Now, I usually just make a small insert after the cake is baked, and slip in a little baby bean.  My dear Amey, makes the best baby beans of anyone I know, and is naughty with a Sharpie.   

OK, here's the thing with babies in King Cake.  The tradition goes that whomever gets the slice with the baby in it, has to bring a cake to the next party.  It's just fun to see who gets it, even though no one usually follows through like they should.  For friendship's sake, if you stick a baby in your cake, tell the good people.  No one should chip a tooth on a wee cannelloni baby, or choke on Jesus.  That's just wrong.

Bald and newly born.  Picture by Amey!
The best way I know to travel with or serve King Cake is on top of tin-foiled cardboard.  It works great and afterwards, you can wrap up any lefties with the salvaged foil.  I usually just tape it down in a few places on the back and call it a day.

Be like Dazee and use leftover colored sugar on your oatmeal.
To make colored sugar sprinkles, put about 1/4 cup unbleached granulated sugar in a bowl and add a tiny smidge of food color paste (I think Wilton works best, and it comes in purple).  Work the paste into the sugar with a spoon, have patience, and after a minute or so it will start to blend together.

Woo!  I think that's everything you need to know to prepare yourself!  Recipes forthcoming!

Peanut Butter Cup King Cake (gluten edition)
XGFX Peanut Butter Cup King Cake
2008 Update (contains gluten)

xo
kittee

20 comments:

  1. Thanks for this kittee. I always wondered about the king cakes but never got around to reading up on them. I really enjoy your enthusiasm and love for the NOLA. I might have to try making a king cake just for the heck of it. Now's the time :)

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  2. Pulling out my papa tofu to make one this week! Do you have a recipe for that raspberry filling you mentioned in one of the other king cake posts? I will do almost anything for baked goods with raspberries!

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    1. Yes, it's coming! Email me if you need it quickly!

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    2. I made a cream cheese/cinnamon sugar and a strawberry cream cheese made with homemade strawberry jam. I'll just have to make another when you post the recipe! Yum!!

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  3. yay! Now I want to make a king cake. badly.

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  4. Can't wait to make a gluten free version! Yummy! :)

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  5. You need some Jesi? 'Cause I'm pretty sure I've a fair quantity of them in my hoard.

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    1. I have one Jesus left, I keep recycling him.

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  6. Oh man, I love your king cake recipes! I don't have time this year to make one, and G is leaving me to go party in New Orleans the weekend before, so it looks like my annual party is on hold. But next year I'm going big!

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  7. This made me smile--which I really need right now. Plus it's like 14 degrees here and this makes me think of warmer weather because it's almost tropical in its kaleidoscoposity. xx

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  8. I needed this primer.. else i would have to search on the interwebs to get all the answers! i say all your king cakes look mighty delicious!

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  9. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard while reading instructions about cake making. Thanks for the intro to these fabulous cakes Kittee and for bringing some laughter into my afternoon :) xx

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  10. those food colors vegan? is that processed white sugar?

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  11. I need help. I made a king cake today with cream cheese filling. After I baked it the filling all but disappeared into the dough. What can I do?

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    1. Which recipe did you use? Did it leak out? When you roll it up, you have to pinch the sides very well to seal it in.

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