Sunday, February 10, 2013

King Cake - Get Your Mardi Gras On

The King Cake made from the NOLA mix
Tuesday, February 12 is Mardi Gras.  On my New Orleans trip, I mentioned earlier that my friend Jen brought me, amongst other things, a slice of King Cake from Gambino's Bakery.  So I got to taste authentic king cake from a fabulous bakery during Mardi Gras season - yay me.  And, being me, I also bought a king cake mix (yes, that three-letter word) to bring home with me so I could try making a king cake on my own.
The box of goodies Jen brought me from Gambino's
The King Cake from Gambino's, surrounded by Mardi Gras beads
There are plenty of recipes out there for making King Cake from scratch.  And someday I want to try this one from Emeril Lagasse. I have to admit I copped out with a mix for 2 reasons: 1) it was locally made and certified to have been made in Louisiana so I had to support their local economy - hey, it's not like it's Pillsbury or Betty Crocker from my grocery store :) and 2) honestly, I didn't want to go out and buy purple, green and yellow sugars separately, lol.  Easier to get them all in the mix.
The King Cake Mix I bought in New Orleans

King Cake is essentially a brioche dough, with a ribbon of brown sugar cinnamon (or praline sugar) running through it, baked in an oval shape, glazed with royal icing and sprinkled with the aforementioned Mardi Gras colors.  Tradition decrees that a plastic baby (or sometimes a much more edible pecan) is hidden amongst the slices and whoever finds that plastic baby in their piece is responsible for hosting the next round of Mardi Gras parties.  (Note to any novice bakers: you do NOT bake the plastic baby inside with the cake - it'll melt and make your cake unsafe to eat.  The baby is usually tucked underneath the slice of cake after baking and serving.)  I'm a personal fan of the Mardi Gras colors and I like a good brioche as much as the next person so it's hard not to like king cake.  

The mix made for a soft dough which was a little concerning but I followed the instructions to the letter and hoped for the best.  After the first rising, the dough was still soft so I had to flour it liberally to handle it.  I didn't bother with a rolling pin since it was so soft and I was able to shape it out into a rectangle with my hands, brush it with melted butter, sprinkle the praline sugar all over it and roll it up, jelly roll style.  With careful handling, it wasn't too hard to bring the ends together to form an oval and pinch the edges shut.  Then I let it rise a second time until it had doubled in size then I baked it off.  I didn't bother brushing with egg wash to make it brown nicely since it was going to get covered in glaze anyway.  The glaze packet also came with the mix and was likely just powdered sugar that I added vanilla and a little milk to until it was the consistency I wanted.  The fun part was sprinkling the colored sugars on top: purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power.

The king cake from the mix actually wasn't bad.  It was a little more cakey than the one from Gambino's (that one was really good) but still tasty and the "cake" (more like a brioche) was complemented nicely by both the sweetness of the glaze and the crunch of the colored sugars.  Next time I definitely want to make one from scratch and see how it turns out.


  1. I love the colors of Mardi Gras – and they’re beautiful in your cake! Any chance you know how long they keep?

    Gretta Hewson
    San Antonio Injury Attorney

    1. Most cakes last 2-3 days, wrapped airtight. However, they're always best consumed day of baking or the next day. If you need to extend it longer than that, I'd advise wrapping it tightly and freezing before you put on the frosting and sugars. Once you need it, thaw completely then glaze and put on the sugars.