Tuesday, February 28, 2006

HAPPY MARDI GRAS, or Damn you, Emeril!

So I don’t get home until 7:00pm, after my stupid roommate insists that I make a trip to the store in subzero windchill factor weather for Hawaiian Punch of all things! Then she announces as I walk through the door--frozen, tired, hungry: “June called. She wants you to make some sort of cake for some holiday tomorrow.” My heart sank to my toes. Now, I have always wanted an excuse to try my hand at a king cake for Mardi Gras, but starting a yeasted, decorated bread at 7:00pm on a school night? Cyd declared the obvious as I got out the flour and sugar canisters: “You’re a better person than I.” (Duh.) Now, to whom does one turn in her hour of desperation on the eve of Mardi Gras? Why, Emeril, of course! I chose the recipe in his Every Day’s a Party: Louisiana Recipes for Celebrating with Family and Friends. I must confess, though, that I was suspicious when the directions said to melt a stick of butter and add it to the yeast and sugar. Hmm…pouring melted butter directly onto yeast? That can’t be right. And after I added all of the flour that the recipe called for, the dough was like a cement block! I couldn’t even get the Kitchen Aid to knead it. I had to take it out and try doing it myself…TRY being the operative word. Nor could I manage to shape it into a smooth ball! And after two hours in my homemade proof box (see previous post from Feb. 7), it was still the same size and unfortunate density. So into the trash the vile rock of dough went, and at 10:30pm, I started again (after my sobs subsided somewhat—dig that alliteration!). I did a quick search online, and found “The Official Mardi Gras Cake Recipe” submitted by Dena Conner to The Soulard Renaissance. I have no idea what (or where) Soulard is, and what makes Dena Conner the definitive authority on king cakes, but I liked that it was basically the exact same recipe as Emeril’s, but with an added half cup of warm water and (potentially) less flour. And most importantly, instead of melting the butter, the recipe had you form a soft dough, and then add softened butter, one tablespoon at a time, as in a proper brioche. I felt MUCH better about that method, and indeed, the dough came out beautifully. However, Emeril had a cream cheese filling for his king cake (as opposed to just a sprinkling of cinnamon), and I liked his icing better, too. So this is a hybrid of the two recipes that worked out very well. Oh, and don’t think that I wasn’t exceedingly pleased with myself for making my own purple, green and gold sugars! ;-) Laissez les bon temps rouler!

KING CAKE (Gateau de Roi)

½ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 packages active dry yeast
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 ½ - 4 ½ cups unsifted flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated, please)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ cup warm milk
5 egg yolks
1 stick butter, cut in slices and softened

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar

1 tiny plastic doll (not more than 1")

5 tablespoons of milk, room temp, divided
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar

purple, green and gold sugar sprinkles

Pour the warm water into a small shallow bowl and sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar into it. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for three minutes, then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm place for 10 minutes until yeast bubbles up.

Combine 3 ½ cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt and sift into a large mixing bowl. Stir in lemon zest. Separate center of mixture to form a hole and pour in yeast mixture and milk. Add egg yolks and using a wooden spoon (I used the trusty Kitchen Aid with the dough hook!), combine dry ingredients into the yeast/milk mixture. When mixture is smooth, beat in 8 tablespoons butter, one tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat two minutes or until dough can be formed into a medium soft ball. Place ball of dough on floured surface and knead, gradually adding up to 1 cup more of flour. When dough is no longer sticky, knead 10 minutes more until shiny and elastic (again, I did this in the stand mixer). Form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl with the vegetable oil. Place the dough inside of the bowl and turn several times to coat thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap, set in a warm, draft-free place, and let rise until doubled, 1 ½- 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese and one cup of powdered sugar. Blend by hand or with a mixer on low speed. Set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or use a Silpat).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat or roll dough into a rectangle 30 inches long and 6 inches wide. Spread the filling lengthwise over the bottom half of the dough, then flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together. Shape the dough into a cylinder and place it on the prepared baking sheet seam side down. Shape the dough into a ring, and pinch the ends together so there isn’t a seam. Insert the king cake baby or pecan half into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough. Cover the ring with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of the risen cake with two tablespoons of the milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the icing. Combine the remaining three tablespoons of milk, the lemon juice, and three cups of powdered sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with the sugars, alternating colors around the cake.

The cake is traditionally cut into 2-inch-thick slices with all the guests in attendance. And whoever gets the piece with the baby (or pecan or bean) in it, is king or queen for the evening!

1 comment:

kitchenmage said...

I made my first King Cake today -- ended up with a recipe that was sort of like a huge cinnamon roll filled with chopped praline, and I started about noon for a 5.30 party. How's that for nuts? My purple sugar ended up this very dark, dusky eggplant and I have no pictures...but it was tasty.