Updated: Feb 1, 2020
Ah, Mardi Gras...the annual celebration that unites the city of New Orleans in food and revelry. But, forget the beads, forget the parades, forget Bourbon street (for real though, forget Bourbon street)...for me Mardi Gras is about one thing and one thing only: King Cake. I am on a personal crusade to encourage people to make King Cake all year. When you start tasting King Cake fresh out of your oven, you'll be making this recipe year-round in no time. If you do visit during carnival season, find someone slinging fresh slices on the street and eat one. Trust me.
First things first, good luck finding purple sprinkles. For whatever reason, I have NEVER found them in a grocery store. If you're dead set on having them, you can probably order them online. I opted to use a purple sugar gel to overlay on the other colors.
Second, you can put a plastic baby into your cake. But do it AFTER it's baked! You don't want a melted, plastic baby in your king cake
Levain Build (makes more than you need)
100 grams mature sourdough starter
200 grams King Arthur Bread Flour
150 grams warm water
25 grams sugar
Final Dough Mix (Makes 1 large King Cake)
300 grams King Arthur Bread Flour
700 grams King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
100 grams warm water
200 grams levain
330 grams unsalted butter (room temperature, but not melted)
330 grams eggs
330 grams sugar
10 grams salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 Orange
Zest of 1 Lemon
400 grams cream cheese
200 grams powdered sugar
100 grams granulated sugar
100 grams cinnamon
400 grams powdered sugar
200 grams egg whites
Colored sugar sprinkles (green, yellow, and purple)
It's important to note that when you're making a naturally leavened, enriched bread, the key to success is making sure your starter is very active and healthy (as with any bread really) and that you push your bulk fermentation to the limits, or even past the limit. If your bulk fermentation isn't strong, it's highly likely you end up with an under proofed, gummy bake.
Here's What You Need To Do:
Build your levain about 4 hours before you are ready to bake. The inoculation is 50%, meaning we are using 50% mature starter to flour. A healthy starter will have this levain ready to roll in no time.
Whisk together the water, eggs, levain, and vanilla.
Add rest of the ingredients. Once they are incorporated, add half of the butter. Mix until incorporated and then add the rest of the butter.
Mix with both hands until all of the ingredients are incorporated.
Turn out onto the countertop and knead until your dough is homogenous and smooth, about 10 minutes.
Transfer your dough to a clean, oiled bowl or tub. Perform one set of stretch and folds.
Now it's time to let bulk fermentation do its thing. You'll want to let this bulk for at least 6 hours (my home is usually somewhere between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure you check your dough is airy and bubbly at the time you complete bulk fermentation.
Transfer your dough, wrapped in plastic, to the fridge overnight or up to 12 hours.
Prepare your cream cheese filling by mixing the cream cheese with the powdered sugar in a stand mixer.
Once your desired cold fermentation time is complete, flour your work surface and dump out your dough.
Punch your dough down a little bit and roll into a long rectangle.
Sprinkle a liberal amount of the cinnamon/sugar mixture on the dough and then spread your cream cheese mixture all over the dough in an even layer.
Starting from the top of the rectangle of dough, roll the whole thing tightly into a log.
Once you have a long log, split lengthwise in half with your dough divider (see pictures below). Then split those in half so that you have 4 pieces.
Braid the 4 pieces together and connect in a circle. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and greased with butter.
Let your king cake proof for up to 4 hours, depending on your temperature. You want to make sure it is bouncy and airy before baking. Don't get impatient! If your starter was nice and healthy, let it do its work and wait for it to be ready before baking.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Bake for roughly 40 minutes, but depending on your oven it may be done earlier. Keep an eye on this one!
While the king cake is baking, you can make your royal icing. Use your mixer to whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed. Add the powdered sugar on low speed until you have a thick and creamy consistency.
Let your king cake cool completely after baking so that you can ice it.
Once your king cake is cooled. Spread your icing all over the king cake and sprinkle your sugar in colored sections.
You have just made homemade king cake and I promise you, you will NEVER go back!