King cake: an odyssey.

We don’t buy king cake until January 6. There are rules, you see, and we don’t want to be responsible for rain on Mardi Gras Day.

So we patiently wait, and then we generally try to support our friends Will and Jennifer, who own King Cake Hub.

But my kids love it when I make king cakes at home, especially because I’ll make them tiny ones they can customize with the decorations of their choosing. (And the husband likes it, because I’ll make him his favorite cherry cream cheese filled king cake.)

It’s not hard. You just need time.

King Cake

12471845_10156405632885551_5686335059199952611_o(makes one giant one, or two medium cakes)

5 cups all-purpose flour (I use baker’s flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 box instant vanilla pudding (seriously! The milk protein keeps the dough super soft, and if you prefer plain king cake, the soft, slightly flavored dough will be a nice choice.
2 packages instant yeast (or 5 tsp of instant yeast – I love Saf-Instant)
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
10 tablespoons melted butter (you’ll need the rest of the second stick for brushing on the dough)
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon cinnamon (for dough – reserve extra for using to sprinkle)
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons powdered sugar (I use a bit more, but this is for sprinkling on the rolled out dough)

Icing

2 cups powdered sugar
Combination of 3 tablespoons of lemon juice and whole milk
Colored sugars

Make the cake: In a saucepan, heat milk, water and butter to 120 to 130 degrees. (Alternately, if you have a bread maker, you can dump in all of the ingredient and set the dough cycle – with three kids to chase around, this is sometimes my MO.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups flour, pudding mix, sugar, salt and yeast. Add liquid mixture to the bowl and beat 2 minutes. Add the eggs, the egg yolk, 1/2 cup flour, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. Beat 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 3-3/4 to 4 cups flour to make a stiff batter.  You CAN use a mixer for this, incidentally.

If you want to transfer the dough to another bowl, scrape it with a spoon into a bowl coated with cooking spray. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm, draft-free place for 2 hours.

Line a jelly-roll pan with parchment paper.

Punch the dough down and place on a lightly floured surface (if you have a pastry mat, it’s ideal for this) – I usually divide the dough into two halves and make two slightly smaller, round cakes, but you can opt for one giant one, too. Shape the dough into a rectangle. With a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick, making a large rectangle roughly 24 inches long and 8 to 12 inches wide.

With a pastry brush, spread the rest of the melted butter lightly over the surface of the dough. Lightly and evenly sprinkle with powdered sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Starting at one long side, roll the dough tightly into an even roll. Transfer the roll to the baking pan covered with parchment. Shape the roll into an oval, with the ends meeting on one side (not at the top or bottom). Pinch the ends together firmly to connect the ring. (And make sure the horizontal seam is on the bottom.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cover the cake with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm spot (hint, hint, the top of the stove, assuming you have a cooktop/oven combo) until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the cake rest on the pan for 5 minutes, then use two large spatulas to carefully remove the cake to a baking rack to cool completely before decorating.

Gently pour the icing over the completely cooled cake, and decorate as you like.

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