Made popular by Mardi Gras celebrations in Louisiana, the King Cake is an annual favorite sweet treat.  This braided cinnamon and sugar filled pastry is covered with icing and colorful sugars.  It’s a little decadent.  But, hey, it’s only once a year.  It’s also traditional to hide a little plastic baby in the cake.  Whoever gets the baby will have good luck for the year and is also responsible for getting the king cake for the next year.  There are a lot of steps but the end product is always a hit.  You can also skip the colorful sugars and serve this anytime for a breakfast or brunch pastry.

The recipe starts with a yeast mixture of flour, sugar and warm skim milk (about 110 degrees F).  I usually give that about 10 minutes before making my dough.
MardiGras-Yeast

To make the dough, I add flour, salt, eggs, butter, cream cheese, a little more milk and my yeast mixture.
MardiGras-Eggs

I combine all those ingredients and then work the dough into a ball and knead it for about 8-10 minutes.  After that, I’ll place the dough in a bowl with a bit of melted button to coat all sides.  I’ll cover it for about 1 1/2 hours until the dough has doubled in bulk.
MardiGras-Knead  MardiGras-DoughRise

Once it has doubled, I’ll roll it out on a large floured board to about a 20″ x 14″ rectangle.  I’ll cut that into three long strips and coat each with a bit of butter and a cinnamon/sugar mixture.
MardiGras-RollOut  MardiGras-SpreadSugar

Roll each of these up into a long log and pinch the seams to seal in the filling.
MardiGras-ThreeRows

Braiding the logs is a bit tricky, but take you time and be sure not to let the filling fall out of the ends.
MardiGras-PartialBriad

Once you’ve created a nice braid, transfer it to a baking sheet and roll it into a circle.  Take the ends and connect them to the other set to create a continuous circle.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but be sure to tuck all ends into overlapping braids so the you don’t have loose ends rising away from the circular shape while baking.  Cover the braid and let it rise for an additional 45 minutes and set your oven to 350 degrees F.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until the bread is a light golden brown and sound hollow when you thump it.
MardiGras-ForcingCircle  MardiGras-Braided

While bread is baking, make your colorful sugars by putting drops of food coloring into bags of granulated sugar and shaking the bags vigorously.
MardiGras-MakingSugars

Once the bread is out of the oven and completely cooled, cover it with an icing made of milk, powdered sugar and vanilla.
MardiGras-Icing

Sprinkle the sugars in an alternating pattern onto the icing.
MardiGras-sugars

That last step is to tuck a little plastic baby into the bottom of the cake.  You can usually find these at a party supply store in the baby shower section.  Or, you can order them online.  You can also do this step before you start icing the cake.
MardiGras-Baby

Mardi Gras King Cake Recipe

Ingredients

Dough

1/2 cu Water 105-110 degrees F
1 pkg Active Dry yeast
2 tbl Sugar
2 tbl All Purpose Flour
4 tbl Butter
4 tbl Cream Cheese
1/4 cu Skim Milk
3 1/2 – 4 cu Flour (plus extra for kneading)
2 lg Eggs, slightly beaten, room temperature
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
Filling
1 tbl Cinnamon
1/2 cu Sugar
3 tbl Butter, melted

Icing

2 cu Powdered Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
4 tbl Skim Milk
Colored Sugars
1 1/2 cu Sugar

3 Sealable Plastic Bags or Containers
12 Drops Yellow Food Coloring
12 Drops Green Food Coloring
2 Drops Red Food Coloring
10 Drops Blue Food Coloring
1″ Plastic Baby Toy, optional (can be found at party supply stores in baby shower accessories)

Method

Place yeast, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of flour in a medium sized bowl and stir to combine.  Be sure that water is between 105 and 110 degrees F and pour it over mixture.  Stir to combine and set aside for 10 minutes.

Mix butter, cream cheese and milk in a small saucepan over medium low heat.  Stir and mash the cream cheese until all ingredients are smooth and blended together.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.  Mixture should be cool to room temperature before using.

Combine 3 cups of flour, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl.  Add eggs, yeast mixture and cooled butter mixture.  Stir to combine.  Add additional flour until mixture is tacky but not sticky (you may add as much a 1 full cup).  Knead dough for about 10 minutes, adding additional flour if necessary, until smooth.  Form dough into a ball.

Butter the bottom and sides of a large bowl.  Place dough in bowl and roll it in butter on all sides.  Cover with a towel and let dough rise for 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in bulk.   Punch the dough down and then roll it out on a large work surface to form a 20″ x 14″ rectangle.  Cut the rectangle into 3 equal sized long rectangles 20″ by about 4 2/3″ .  Brush the surface with the 3 tablespoons of melted butter.  Combine 1 tablespoon of sugar with 1/2 cup of sugar.  Sprinkle about a 2″ wide line of the mixture down the entire length of each strip along one side.  Starting on the sugar coated edge, roll each strip into a 20″ long tube.  PInch the seams to seal the tube along the length.  Laying the three tubes side by side with the seams on the bottom, braid them together.  Shape the braided piece into a circle on a baking sheet and pinch together the beginning and end of each tube to form a continuous braid.  Cover with a towel and let dough rise for an additional 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Once dough has risen, bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown and cake has a hollow sound when you thump it.  Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.  Once the cake has cooled, push the plastic baby into the bottom (optional).

To make colored sugars, please 1/2 cup of granulated sugar in each of three sealable plastic bags (or containers).  Add 12 drops of yellow food coloring in one bag.  Seal the bag and shake vigorously to evenly color the sugar, being sure to break up any clumps with your fingers.  Repeat the process with a second bag using 12 drops of green food coloring.  With the last bag, combine 10 drops of red and 6 drops of blue food coloring to create purple.  Set sugars aside.

In a medium sized bowl, combine powdered sugar, vanilla and milk.  Mixture should be pourable but not runny (a bit thicker than syrup).  If it’s too thin, add more powdered sugar.  Place cooled cake on a wire rack over parchment paper.  Using a pastry brush, drizzle and liberally brush the icing on all sides of the cake.  Use all of the icing, even though some with drip onto the parchment.  Immediately sprinkle sugars over icing in alternating rows of green, yellow and purple.

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