Monday, February 16, 2009

Mardi Gras King Cake


Since it is Mardi Gras season right now down here in the Big Easy, I thought you might enjoy learning about another one of our unique culinary creations. I have recruited my big sister Barbara to do a guest blog entry on making a king cake. Barbara is the inventor of the original King Rock (more on that later). In addition to that, she is just the best big sister ever. She looks after me. She is an accountant by profession, so she helps with my business finances, taxes, and all that other icky stuff I have no clue about. She also comes on some of my cake trips with me to help me out with my demos and my vendor table. She is one of the most energetic, social, and fun to be with people I know. She is a very cool chick and I love her tons. So now I present to you... Barbara.....


Hi, I’m Barbara, Sharon’s sister, and she’s asked me to do a guest blog. This is me getting ready for Mardi Gras, which this year falls on February 24.

(Note from Sharon: I have this same outfit and yes we do wear this when we go parading.)

Speaking of Mardi Gras, that brings me to the topic of the day. I am not a cake decorator. I see some of the magnificent pieces of art that you all do and I am in complete awe. But, I am here today to talk about the king of all cakes - the King Cake. If you are not from the New Orleans are, you might be asking yourself “what is a King Cake?” A king cake is a brioche-style cake similar to a coffee cake that is served throughout the carnival season in New Orleans. The carnival season begins on the 12th Day of Christmas, the Epiphany (January 6), which is the day the three kings visited the Baby Jesus. It is believed that it took the three kings 12 days to find their way to the stable. The carnival season ends on Mardi Gras Day, which is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The king cake is circular, representing the circular path the three kings had to take to ward off King Herod, who was seeking them so that he could kill the Christ Child. The king cake is typically decorated with colored icing and/or sugar. The three colors are purple, green and gold, the colors of Mardi Gras, which represent justice, faith and power. I’ve also heard that the three colors represent the three gifts presented by the Magi (gold, frankincense, and myrrh.) Within each cake is hidden a small plastic doll, which represents the Baby Jesus. (In olden times, it used to be a porcelain doll, or a bean or pea.)

King Cake parties where all the rage when I was growing up. Whoever was lucky enough to get the doll in their piece of cake would be named king (or queen) of that party and had to throw the next party. Today, this tradition is very prevalent in offices throughout the city where the person who gets the doll must bring the next cake. King cake sales are so prosperous that many bakeries in New Orleans are more profitable during the carnival season than they are for the entire rest of the year.

The making of a king cake should not be taken lightly. Since this is a yeast sweet bread, it has to be kneaded and left to rise twice, and is a day-long commitment. There are many bakeries that make excellent king cakes, so why in the world would anyone want to make their own? Just for the fun of it!! My introduction into making home-made king cakes came many years ago. I found a recipe and tried it out on my family. Geez almighty, it was horrible. It came out heavy and hard as a rock, so much so that they called it the King Rock. My other sister, Janice, told her office mates about it and they accused her of exaggerating – that it couldn’t possibly have been that bad. So, they asked me to make a cake for their office party. Much to my dismay, it was just as horrible, but everyone was so polite and complimentary so as not to hurt my feelings, but I knew it was a bomb. I hope to think that I have gotten a little better at it over the years, but it is still tricky. I continue to try out new recipes and techniques, as I continue my search for perfection. The recipe below is a really good one. It produces a light, but moist cinnamon cake. A few pointers for success: You have to get the yeast at just the right temperature (105 to 115 degrees) and let it foam for at least 10 minutes. You have to be careful not to add too much flour and not to over knead it. The dough should be slightly sticky, but elastic and able to hold its own shape, but never firm.

You have to be careful not to over bake it or it will be dry. I now use an instant-read thermometer, which should register 195 to 200 degrees for doneness.

The recipe is below. Basically, this is what you do. It’s much like making a bread dough. Let it rise till double in bulk and then roll out into a rectangle.

Here’s what it looks like rolled out with the cinnamon sugar sprinkled on.

Then roll up each piece into a long string.

Pinch the edges together so that the filling doesn’t ooze out. Flatten down the pinched edge afterwards so that it lays flat.

Twist the two strings together.

Form into a circle on a baking pan.

Let rise until double in bulk.

This is what it looks like right out of the oven.

Let cool and then decorate with a glaze and colored sprinkles.

See the baby’s head?

And that’s me with my cake.

You can do these in a variety of ways. You can divide the rectangle of dough into thirds and braid it like this. I rolled these strings in the cinnamon sugar to get it on the outside, rather than on the inside.

This is what it looked like after it was left to rise, baked and decorated. This one raised a lot and was very light and airy.

This one was filled with cinnamon sugar, raisins, and pecans. If you put a lot of “stuff” in your cake, it won’t rise as much.

You can also use other fillings, such as cream cheese filling, apple pie filling, lemon pie filling, cherry pie filling, etc. But I don’t like those. They turn out too sweet for my taste and the filling overpowers the taste of the cake. I’m a purist and like just a little cinnamon sugar.

So, that’s it. I hope that you all give it a try and bring a bit of New Orleans to wherever you might live. Also, if you ever have the chance to visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras, the city would love to have you. Let me just say that Mardi Gras is not only what you see in the media. Yes, there are some unmentionable things that go on in the French Quarter, but that is a very small piece of what our carnival season is about. Mardi Gras outside of the Quarter is very family oriented. The parade routes are filled with kids and families having fun. When we were little kids, my family did not miss a parade. We loved every minute of it. We would lift Sharon, the youngest, smallest and spryest of all of us, over barricades to get that all-elusive string of beads, trinket or doubloon out of our reach. Police were all over the place supposedly monitoring such infractions, but because she was so cute, the police would just look at her and us, and just shake their heads. We trained her young; you should see how she still scoops up the parade throws.

Happy Mardi Gras!


(This recipe makes two medium size cakes.)
¼ cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 tablespoon (1 package) dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
5 ¾ to 6 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ cup warm milk (105 to 115 degrees)
1 cup sour cream
3 large eggs
finely grated zest of 1 lemon or orange
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces

Cinnamon Sugar:
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

4 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
7 tablespoons hot water, more as needed
1/4 teaspoon almond flavoring

1) Pour warm water into small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and a pinch of sugar over the surface. Stir to dissolve and let stand at room temperature until foamy; about 10 minutes.

2) Place 1 ½ cups of the flour, the remaining sugar, and the salt in mixer bowl. Make a well and add the milk, sour cream, eggs, and zest in the center. Beat until smooth on medium-low speed, about 1 minute.

3) Add the yeast mixture and beat for 1 minute more.

4) Stop the machine and add 1 cup more flour. Beat for 1 minute.

5) Add the butter pieces and beat on low speed until incorporated.

6) Add the remaining four, ½ cup at a time, until a soft, smooth dough that just clears the sides of the bowl is formed. Switch to the dough hook when the dough thickens, about two-thirds through adding the flour.

7) When all flour is added, knead with dough hook for about 5 minutes on medium speed. (If you don’t have a dough hook for your mixer, you’ll need to turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5-10 minutes.)

8) Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and just able to hold its own shape, under 1 minute if you used the dough hook (6 to 10 kneads to smooth it out), dusting with flour only 1 tablespoon at a time, just enough to prevent sticking to your hands and the work surface. This dough will be very smooth, with a definite soft elastic quality, a little sticky, but never stiff, and will hold its shape.

9) Place the dough ball in a greased deep container, turn once to grease the top, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until double in bulk, 2 ½ to 3 hours. Do not allow the dough to rise over double.

10) Punch dough down with fist. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Let rest 10 minutes.

11) Divide the dough in half with a bench scraper, pizza cutter or knife, never tearing the dough.

12) Divide each half into thirds. Roll out to a rectangle approx. 20 x 12 inches.

13) Divide in half with pizza cutter. Brush with melted butter keeping edges dry. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

14) Roll up and pinch ends together so filling does not ooze out. Flatten pinched edge.

15) Twist two long rolled pieces together. Form into a circle and fold edges under.

16) You can insert baby trinket into cake at this point or wait until after it is baked. (I like to wait after it is baked if it is plastic.) Insert from underneath. (If you don’t have a baby trinket, use a whole pecan, walnut or other object; just be careful it is big enough that it cannot be swallowed whole.)

17) Cover with greased plastic wrap or light cloth towels and let rise in a warm place until double in size, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.

18) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 20-25 minutes. An instant-read thermometer will read 195 to 200 degrees.

19) Let cakes completely cool.

20) To prepare frosting, mix melted butter, powdered sugar and flavoring; add hot water 1 Tablespoon at a time until glaze reaches desired spreading consistency. You don’t want this too thin because it will run right off the cake or too thick because it won’t drip down the side of the cake.

21) Pour frosting over cake; sprinkle with purple, green and gold colored sprinkles or colored sugar.



Sharon again here. WOW! Was that great or what? Thanks Sis for showing me up on my own blog. Damn overachiever. (Just kidding.) But seriously, I have been trying to convince Barb for months now to start her own food blog. She is a good cook, and photography has been a hobby of hers for a long time. What do you guys think? If you think she needs to start her own blog, leave a note in the comment section below this entry and you will automatically be entered into a drawing for a free give-away of these!!!!....

Don't get too overly excited. They are just cheap plastic. But hey they are free! And fun! And FREE! Make sure you leave an email address in your comment so I can contact you if you win. I will draw the winner's name February 26th.

Then you can pretend you are down here with us having a great time while you sip your Mardi Gras martinis.

Mardi Gras Martini:

This festive concoction will add color to your celebration and your cheeks. To make purple sugar, add a few drops of red and blue food coloring to granulated sugar and mix. Rim glasses with a cut lemon and dredge in colored sugar, add a lemon twist and enjoy this purple, green and gold treat.

2 ounces vodka
1 ounce triple sec
1 drop creme de menthe dark
Lemon twist, optional

In a martini shaker, combine vodka, triple sec and creme de menthe with ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into a martini glass, preferably one rimmed with purple sugar. Garnish with a lemon twist. (*from

Happy Mardi Gras Everyone!



WenedyB said...

AWWW, Way cool to both of you!!! and yes Barb should definately start her very own blog! I am actually trying out my very first king cake this week, believe it or not my DD gets extra credit for social studies if they bring in a king cake ( me thinks the teacher must really like them, the cakes that is)so with me they (the kids) suggested I just "go ahead and make one" yep, ok, I will but I may be sending a king rock too. Think she'll still get the credt even if they cant eat it??!!

WendyB said...

duh, cant spell my name right.

chan said...

Start your own blog, Barbara. You did an excellent guest appearnace (smile)

Alicia said...

How I miss home so much...I guess I have to make do with the beads I got from carnival mart when I was there last summer...!!! Happy Mardi Gras everyone!
BTW Barb, start your own blog!

Jacque Benson said...

A Whole Fam Damily of Over Achievers, if you ask me!!!! need your own the king cake tute.
I have always wondered how they made those cakes!!

And please be one of our guest teachers at the Sharing and Caring blog too!! ;-)


dai said...

Yes! I second what Jacque said! Come visit our blog sometime! And Barbara should definitely start her own blog - it's so much fun!

Thanks for the tutorial. I always like reading about other cultures & trying out tasty treats!

Adele said...

All I can say is YUUMMMMMM!!! Yeast dough and cinnamon sugar- nothing beats that!!! Joie des vivre!!! (hope I spelled that right, my French is a bit rusty!!)

Becky Hadley said...

I enjoyed reading your blog just as much as Sharon's. You both have natural talent!! I could hear your accent while reading ( since I've heard Sharon so often watching the dvd!! LOL) Start a blog...come know you want to!! :)
~Becky ( boo1129)

Mata Family said...

Great blog! I enjoyed learning the history behind it as well! Very nice!!

Anonymous said...

Looks great to me, I say bravo and full steam ahead!!! I enjoy all the SugarEd blogs and just can't wait until I get another one so, this would be double the pleasure.

Anonymous said...

This is a very good blog, it has step by step instructions and photos. Keep it up!!! We need people like you Ladys.
Darlene Brown

Jen1002 said...

I agree with Jacque! The creativity and skill running through the family gene pool leaves me as green with envy as the sugar on your yummy looking king cake!

Blog away big sis!

DARLENE said...

Looks great, I love those King Cakes. Keep up the good work.

sweeties said...

I've seen these cakes, but thought it was a real "cake" -thanks for setting me straight! I'm currently living in central Pennsylvania. They make Fasnachts on Tuesday -a potato raised donut fried in lard-YUM! Glad this is only once a year:) As an avid blog reader, I get so inspired with clear recipes and pictures -you would be a great teacher to the masses!

Audrey said...

Stuff like this makes me wish I had a big sis (or 2)! Sounds like you have a wonderful family. I'm so grateful you're willing to share them and all you do with us. Enjoy Mardi Gras! :)

Tia said...

I can't wait to try this recipe- I've tried many since moving to Canada, and away from my beloved Gambino's in Louisiana. This one looks promising!

P.S. LOVE your sister's fuzzy hat. :-D Brings back fond memories of the parades, and enjoying multiple Hurricanes while being smacked in the face with handfuls of beads. lol

dodi said...

Oohhh, perfect timing! I'm going to try my hand at a King Cake for our mom's group Mardi Gras party! Thanks so much!

Sigh, I really do miss Mardi Gras! We lived on Magazine st for a year and Constantinople for a year. Used to park my car on Friday after lunch and didn't move it till Wednesday morning. Good times! We were so spoiled by being right there!

ddwaite at

NSH said...

This is very cool! After spending way too much money on three king cakes so far this year, I'm up for making some of my own. Any ideas where I can get a few king cake babies?

Glenda said...

Great post! Yes, Barb should have her own foodie blog.

Now, I'm all sad that I missed out king cake at work last week. We have a customer that sends us one every year and I was sick and mised it. Darn.


Martina said...

Thanks for the great tut!And you really should start your own blog.:-)

Fiddlesticks said...

Great post! Yes, Barb should have her own foodie blog.
I loved reading her story, and she looks so much like you Sharon!
I also love love Sharons Blog ! I check in everday And always enjoy when she has added new thoughts /ideas!
Thanks so much !

asimpson said...

love this post, and I am definately going to make king cake, it looks very yummy :-)

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Barb!! Yes, you absolutely must start your own blog, if for no other reason that to show up your little sister(ooops, meant to say , keep her on her toes)! :) Although thanks for clearing up why your Sis is always the one "in front"...I guess jumping in front of the baracades to grab beads gave her a taste of being in the limelight! :) Love ya, Sharon (yeah, really do)! :)

Chris said...

That's so cool...i wanna make a king cake now!! I definately think Barb should start a food blog. It so cool to see families connecting with food. BTW Bard don't worry about your first attempts at the King Cake, we've all had our blunders in the kitchen! I wish i could go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, i have to make it a point to go sometime soon! Have a great day!!

Janice Mary said...

I vote for my big sister, Barb, to start her own blog, too. Both my sisters seem to have gotten the baking genes in this family. I loved the post. I had totally forgotten how we used to lift Sharon over the parade barricades to go get the trinkets. She would scoop and run back before the cops had a chance to tell her not to. But you forgot to tell them how our mother taught us to catch beads: What happens if you grab a pair of beads and someone else grabs them at the same time? What do you do? You yank them and break them. Never surrender the beads. Mother used to pick up the broken ones, take them home and melt them back together. Then after Mardi Gras, she would sell all the beads and use that money to buy crawfish on Good Friday. And Gawd help anyone who came and tried to stand in front of us at the parades! Melba was a Mardi Gras animal!
I can attest that Barb's king cakes have gotten much better over the years. I can no longer tease her about the King Rock. Barb, you are no fun anymore!

SugarEd Productions said...

OMG you are s right!

I would scramble to get the trinkets before the cops could yell at you all for lifting me over. And Mom was a fierce momma bear. We got there first; you better not come stand in front of her kids! And if a doubloon hots the gorund, step on itwith your foot, then go to pick it up. If you lean over to pick it up with your hands, you will get it stomped by someone else's foot! LOL

I also remember mom sorting the bead by dozens and clasping them with little strips of paper grocery bags and staples, and then selling them back the school or other parade people to ake the crawfish money.

Good times; good memories.

Cara said...

I actually think I might try to make this.... :) That's pretty brave for me, since I usually bake from a mix.

Barb said...

Hey you guys,

You are all wonderful for your kind words. It was a lot of fun!

NSH asked where to find the king cake babies. In the New Orleans area, we have Mardi Gras supply stores all over the place. I bought mine from one of them. You can do a search on the internet for "Mardi Gras supplies" and you will find a bunch of online stores. They are real cheap; like a bag of 50 costs just a couple of bucks. Be sure to get the natural or pink colored ones. You don't want the purple, green or gold ones inside of a cake.

I hope you all get a chance to try it out. Well, I need to run off now. Actually, trying to make some parade-watching plans for the weekend. My normal parade-watching buddy (Sharon) is deserting me this year. She planned her cake class this weekend before she realized it was Mardi Gras weekend.

Happy Mardi Gras to everyone!

Anonymous said...

Another vote for Barbara to start a blog!!!! :)

dodi said...

Oh. My. King Cake! Holy cow! It's fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing and the how-to's. I just got them done tonight. The only problem I had is my filling seeped out some but I guess it's my rolling skills. Gotta work on those!

Kim Dodgen said...

Barbara you really do need to start your own blog. I live in New Orleans and was in the French Quarter yesterday and know exactly what Mardi Gras and King Cakes are. You hit the nail on the spot with this awesome blog and recipe on King Cakes. I have never made one before, but will definitely try to make one since you show each step on the process. Thank you sooo much.


Niccicola said...

Start your own blog!

Jana said...

I would read Barbara's blog! There are plenty of food blogs out there, but very few good ones. Recipes, tips, photos and cute stories...isn't that what we all want?


MissLisa said...

Love the history lesson and how the story was told. You obviously got the writing gene too. Start your own food/cooking blog, you're a natural.

Anonymous said...

Barb, yes start your own food blog! I'll love you forever for this recipe! Sharon, thanks for sharing her. This cake is wonderful and pulled my socks out of a fire. I couldn't find my recipe anywhere and had to make one. Thanks so much for sharing.

Erin said...

Making this tonight for Aidan's birthday party. His birthday is on Mardi Gras so we thought it'd be cute to have a king cake for his party. Thanks so much for sharing Barbara!