You know how you can start an instant battle among friends or family by proclaiming that one barbeque joint is better than another?
Well, substitute the words “king cake” for “barbeque” and if anyone you know is from or has lived in Louisiana or Mississippi or southern Alabama, you’ll get the same effect. Thousands of Internet debates essentially prove the exact same thing that barbeque debates show – it’s all about nostalgia, tradition, and personal taste.
Some like their king cake oozing with cream cheese and almond filling, or chocolate or apricots or whatnot. Others say it has to be drier and more like coffee cake to offset the sweet glaze and sugar.
I’ve had the flat, ultra-sweet king cakes sold at grocery stores and thought, eh. So finally, this Mardi Gras season, I made my first one – opting for the drier, simpler, breadier version.
This is the first time in over a decade that I’ve baked with yeast. I’m not a great baker and throwing in a living organism just makes it more nerve-wracking. Plus, making a king cake is time consuming and my attention span is usually 30 minutes for a recipe.
In the face of those obstacles, I have to admit that the labor intensive process was – enjoyable and deliciously worth it. I’m as proud of my mishapen, overly-large, blotchy creation as any pro from New Orleans’ famous king cake bakeries, such as Gambino’s, Nonna Randazzo’s or Haydel’s.
If you’ve got some time on your hands and you have aged out of the party-’til-you-drop phase of Mardi Gras, you can still enjoy the hedonistic season with this sour cream, butter and sugar extravaganza.
Clear the counters; you’ve got a lot of stuff to do like kneading and tinting frosting and sugars.
1/4 cup salted butter
1 16-ounce container sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 (1/4 ounce) packages active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup water at 100-110 degrees)
6 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened
yellow, green and red food coloring
2 tiny plastic baby dolls
For tinted sugar:
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 Tbsp. melted butter
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
3-6 Tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
In a saucepan over low heat, cook the butter, sour cream, sugar and salt just until the butter melts, stirring often. Cool to 110 degrees.
Fill the bowl of a stand mixer with hot water to warm it up. Empty out the water and wipe out excess water with a paper towel. Add the yeast, 1 Tbsp. sugar and the 1/2 cup of warm water to the bowl and let it stand until surface is covered with bubbles, about five minutes.
Add the sour cream mixture, eggs and 2 cups of the flour and mix at medium speed until dough looks smooth – about two minutes. Lower the speed and gradually add the rest of the flour, stopping occasionally to scrape the sticky dough ball off the beater. When dough is firm, but still sticky, place it on a well floured surface. Prepare for the rising by thorougly greasing a large bowl, set aside.
Put on some good music, and knead the dough for 10 minutes, then place it in the bowl. Then turn the dough over so the greased bottom if facing up. Cover and let rise in a warm place for an hour.
While the dough rises, combine the cinnamon and sugar and set the butter out to soften. You can go ahead and tint the sugars, too (the frosting will have to wait, because it will harden). Divide 1 1/2 cups of sugar into three dishes. Add 2 to 3 drops of green food coloring to one dish, yellow to another. Combine 2 drops of red and 2 drops of green food coloring for purple sugar.
After an hour, punch the dough down, divide it in half and put one half on the floured surface.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Roll the dough out into a thin rectangle – about 2 feet by 10 inches. Sprinkle with half the cinnamon mixture and dot with half the butter. From the long edge, roll the dough into a log. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet, shape it into an oval, and with wet fingers, pinch the ends together. Repeat with other half of the dough.
Bake 20 minutes and cool 20 minutes before frosting.
For frostings, combine the melted butter and powdered sugar until crumbly. Start by adding 3 Tbsp. milk and mix until smooth. Gradually add more milk until frosting can be drizzled. Add vanilla. Divide the frosting into three bowls and tint the same way you made the sugar.
Insert the baby dolls in each cake. Then drizzle with alternating bands of purple, gold and green and sprinkle with sugars.