King Cake is a quintessential confection that is decorated in Mardi Gras colors. Purple signifies justice; green denotes faith; and gold or yellow signifies power. Traditionally, a tiny plastic baby is hidden in the King Cake. Whoever, ends up with the baby is named “King” for a day and bound by custom to host the next party and provide the King Cake.
King Cake is an annual tradition in our house. Every year, I experiment with a different variation of the bread dough. Sometimes I use a cream cheese based filling, and other times it’s more of a sugar/cinnamon filling. Sometimes I’ll form the cake in one big circle and other times, I’ll form the cake using cinnamon rolls. However I approach making the king cake, the one constant is that I use the bread machine to make the dough.
This year’s king cake is probably the best I’ve ever made. Like you, I learn from my successes and failures!
For this king cake, I used an adaptation of King Arthur’s Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls which was the 2021 Recipe of the Year. What intrigued me about the King Arthur recipe was the Japanese technique called tangzhong. With this method, a small amount of flour is added to milk and cooked until a paste forms. When the paste is added to the remaining ingredients of a yeast bread, the result is a super soft bread that stays moist for a number of days.
I have to say that I was skeptical about this because of the significantly higher ratio of liquid to flour that the recipe used. However, the result was amazing. The king cake was much softer than past king cakes that I’ve made. In addition, the dough was a dream to work with.
Let me take you on my journey for this year’s King Cake.
Making the Tangzhong
For the tangzhong, I whisked together 4 1/2 tablespoons of bread flour and 3/4 cup of milk in a small saucepan. I heated the mixture over medium heat until a paste formed that was thick enough that a spoon left a line on the bottom of the pan. This took about 5 minutes on my electric stove.
Making the Dough
Once the flour/milk paste was made, I added it to the pan of my bread machine along with more milk, butter, sugar, salt, bread flour and bread machine yeast.
I set the bread machine on the dough cycle and walked away.
Making the Cinnamon Sugar Filling
While the bread machine was doing its thing, I made the filling. I used light brown sugar, ground cinnamon, bread flour, unsalted butter and sea salt.
First, I whisked together the brown sugar, cinnamon, flour and salt until everything was well combined. Then, I added melted butter.
I stirred the mixture until the butter was fully incorporated.
Forming the King Cake
Once the dough cycle finished, I transferred the dough from the bread machine to a floured piece of parchment paper. I was amazed at the feel of the dough. It was soft and supple.
I rolled the dough into roughly a 28 x 10-inch rectangle. I was amazed at how easily the dough rolled out. Unlike dough that generally springs back when rolled, this dough offered very little resistance.
Using a pizza cutter, I trimmed the dough on all sides.
Then, I spread the cinnamon/sugar filling on the dough, leaving about an inch free on all sides.
Starting on one of the long sides, I rolled the dough into a tight log (Photo 1). Then I pinched the other long side into the log to produce a seal (Photo 2).
Next, I formed the log into a circle and tucked the ends together. After that, I brushed the king cake with an egg wash (Photo 3) and cut slits on the top all the way around (Photo 4).
To allow the king cake to rise a bit, I warmed my electric oven by turning it on for exactly 1 minute and 45 seconds.
Then, I placed the king cake into my oven for about 20 minutes. I knew from experience that I didn’t want it to rise too much at this point. The reason was that the majority of the rising takes place when I bake the king cake.
I popped the king cake into a preheated 350°F oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the king cake was golden brown and perfectly cooked.
I removed it from the oven, and transferred the king cake to a wire cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet.
Making the Cream Cheese Icing
While the king cake was in the oven, I made the cream cheese icing. In addition to cream cheese, I used confectioners’ sugar, unsalted butter and vanilla extract.
I also had on hand purple, green and yellow food glitter to sprinkle on top of the king cake, and a little plastic baby.
I added the confectioners’ sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract to a bowl and beat it on high until it was creamy and smooth.
Decorating the King Cake
I let the king cake cool for about 10 minutes before I decorated it with the cream cheese icing. Then, I sprinkled on the purple, green and yellow food glitter.
I didn’t bake the plastic baby in the king cake because I was concerned about it melting. Rather, I placed it on the outside.
As I said at the beginning of this post, this year’s king cake is probably the best I’ve ever made! Actually, it is the best I’ve ever made. You should try it. Laissez les bons temps rouler. Yum!
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King Cake (Bread Machine)
- 3/4 cup (6 ounces) milk
- 4 1/2 Tablespoons (1.2 ounces) bread flour
King Cake Dough
- 1 cup (8 ounces) milk
- 6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
- 3 cups (15 ounces) bread flour
- 1 Tablespoon bread machine yeast
- 3/4 cup (5.625 ounces) light brown sugar
- 3 Tablespoons bread flour
- 5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- Pinch salt
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2-1/2 cups (10 ounces) confectioners' sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Purple, green and yellow food glitter
- Whisk together 3/4 cup milk and 4 1/2 tablespoons bread flour in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until a paste forms, about 5 minutes. The Tangzhong is ready when a spoon leaves a line in the pan.
King Cake Dough
- Add the dough ingredients to the bread machine in the order listed. Select the dough cycle and start the machine.
- Whisk together the brown sugar, bread flour, cinnamon and salt until combined. Add melted butter; stir to thoroughly combine. Set aside.
- Beat cream cheese, butter, confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract together until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
- When the dough cycle is finished, remove the dough and roll out to a 10×28-inch rectangle on a floured surface. Trim the edges as needed. Spread the cinnamon/sugar mixture on the dough to within 1-inch of the edges.
- Starting at one of the long edges, roll the dough tightly into a 28-inch log. Pinch the edges to seal the log. Place the rolled log onto the prepared baking sheet, seam side down, and form the dough into a ring. Moisten the ends of the dough with a little water; pinch the two ends together to seal.
- Brush king cake with egg wash. Using a sharp knife, slash the top of the king cake to allow for steam to excape. Let rise in a warm place for about 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake the king cake in preheated oven until the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.
- Remove the kinf cake from the oven, and cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. While the cake is still warm, spoon the icing onto the cake, allowing drips of icing to dribble down the sides of the cake. Immediately, sprinkle purple, green and yellow food glitter on the cake. Yield: One King Cake.