The holidays have come and gone, but here in South Louisiana, we're on to the next! That’s right, Carnival Season is upon us. Celebrating the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras Day, Carnival Season is arguably the most wonderful time of the year in Louisiana!
Mardi Gras is celebrated across the state, but you'll find the most action deep down South. From the extravagant parades in New Orleans, to the more family friendly parades through Lafayette and Baton Rouge, to the real deal, Rural Cajun Mardi Gras celebration known as "Courir de Mardi Gras", there’s truly something for everyone during Carnival Season. The festivities are celebrated with parades at all hours of the day, over-the-top Mardi Gras balls, beads, booze and of course…King Cake!
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The King Cake is a sweet dough cake reminiscent of a giant cinnamon roll (or a giant donut at some places!) that gets stuffed with an ever growing possibility of fillings, from cream cheese, lemon, praline...even boudin! The cake gets topped with icing and purple, green and gold colored sugar. It’s easy to find a King Cake in nearly every grocery store around town this time of year, but the best ones are found at the local bakeries. Here in Lafayette, bakeries like Poupart’s, Keller's, Twin's and Meche's are all big players in the King Cake game!
With so many amazing options in the area, it’s hard to fight the urge to pop in to one of the local bakeries and grab a ready made king cake. While I am all for buying at least one king cake from around town, it's also pretty special to bake one from scratch. Like any scratch made dough, making a king cake at home is a bit of a process and is going to take a couple hours from start to finish, but most of the time is spent letting the dough rise in peace, so it's not all work!
This king cake has a simple brown sugar and cinnamon filling, loaded with nutty pecans. It gets topped with a light layer of frosting and sprinkled with colorful sugar. You can buy purple, green and yellow sprinkles at the grocery store, but if you happen to have sugar and food coloring at home, you can make the colors yourself by shaking together about 1/4 cup of sugar with a few drops of food coloring in an airtight container and until you get the desired color.
Warm the milk to lukewarm (~110°F) in a small saucepan. Add butter to slightly melt. Pour into stand mixer, turn mixer on low setting and add egg and sugar. Mix in the salt, cinnamon & nutmeg, followed by half of the flour, spooning in a little at a time. Add the yeast, then spoon in the remaining flour. Mix until ingredients are incorporated. (*If dough seems too dry, add a tablespoon of water.
Once the mix is evenly combined, change your stand mixer to the dough hook attachment and knead for around 10 minutes (until dough pulls away from side of the bowl and has some stretch to it. *Note: If you don't have a mixer or the dough hook, you can knead the dough on a smooth surface, sprinkling in small amounts of extra flour as you knead.* Let the dough rise, covered, for 1 hour. You can use a few minutes of this downtime to whip up the cinnamon filling and frosting.
On a lightly floured surface, plop out your risen dough and divide in half. Roll one half of the dough out into a large rectangle shape, roughly 1/4" thick and roughly 20" x 16". Sprinkle the filling across the dough, all the way to the edges. Roll dough (jelly roll style) and with the seam side down, on a parchment lined or greased baking sheet, bring the ends together to form an oval shape. Wet the tips of your fingers and gently pinch the two ends of the roll together until they are sealed. Cover and let rise again, for around 20 minutes.
This will bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes. After it’s cooled for a few minutes, top it off with the frosting and sprinkle with colored sugar. Have some fun with the tradition of sneaking a tiny little king cake baby into the bottom of the cake. It's good luck for whoever gets the baby in their slice...and they have the privilege of buying (or making!) the next king cake. Just be sure to let your people know that there's a plastic baby hiding somewhere in there! Happy Carnival Season, y'all!
Thanks for Chewsing!