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Chat Leftovers: King cake for Mardi Gras

Happy Wednesday. Once again Washington has been hit by snow. If you're tired of shoveling it, why not consider eating it? Don't miss today's story about snow cream, a Mid-Atlantic treat that we could probably all make by the truckload right now. That is, if only we could get to the grocery store for the cream and sugar.

Recipe Included

Since you're probably snowbound, you might as well tune in to today's Free Range chat. Joining us will be author Corinne Trang, who talked to writer Melissa McCart for today's story about Asian noodles. We'll see you there at 1 for an hour of your comments and questions. And speaking of questions, here's one we couldn't get to during last week's chat.

I’m not from New Orleans, but I love the whole Mardi Gras food thing, especially king cake. Do you have an easy recipe for one? And is there any way of making small individual king cakes -- king cupcakes, maybe?

Here's a recipe we ran in 1997; it came to us from food and travel writer CiCi Williamson. A proper king cake is made with yeast, similar to some kinds of coffee cake, so offhand I would say that the dough wouldn't take well to being made into cupcakes. However, if you'd be willing to settle for the king cake look but not the taste, you could bake some regular cakey cupcakes and decorate them with the traditional rows of colored sugar. As to the plastic baby, you're on your own.

Making this cake is simple, but it takes time; yeast, after all, must rise. If you'd rather have someone else do the work, you can ask around to see if local bakeries are making king cakes, or you can check out New Orleans companies such as Haydel's Bakery, which will ship you a cake via next-day air. Let the good times roll!

KING CAKE

(16 servings)

Traditionally, the person who gets the piece of cake containing the tiny baby doll hidden inside hosts the next Mardi Gras party.

For the cake

1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)

1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons active dry yeast

3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups unsifted flour, plus additional for working dough

1 teaspoon nutmeg

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest

1/2 cup warm milk

5 egg yolks

10 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the egg wash

1 egg, slightly beaten with 1 tablespoon milk

For icing and decorating

3 cups confectioners' sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 to 3 tablespoons purple decorating sugar

2 to 3 tablespoons yellow decorating sugar

2 to 3 tablespoons green decorating sugar

For the cake: Combine the warm water, 2 teaspoons of the sugar and the yeast in a small, shallow bowl. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for 3 minutes, then stir thoroughly. Set the bowl in a warm place for 10 minutes or until the yeast bubbles up and the mixture almost doubles in volume.

In a very large bowl, sift 3 1/2 cups of the flour with the remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt. Stir in the lemon zest. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the yeast mixture along with the milk and egg yolks. Use a wooden spoon to blend slowly. When the mixture is smooth, add 8 tablespoons of the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue beating for 2 minutes or until a dough can be formed into a medium-soft ball.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead as you would bread. During kneading, add up to 1 more cup of flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, sprinkled over the dough. When the dough is no longer sticky, knead 10 more times until shiny and elastic. Coat the inside of a large bowl evenly with 1 tablespoon of the remaining butter. Place the dough ball in the bowl and rotate until the entire surface is buttered. Cover the bowl with a moderately thick kitchen towel, and place in a draft-free spot for about 1 1/2 hours or until the dough doubles in volume.

Coat a large baking sheet with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and set aside. Punch the dough down and place on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top and pat the dough into a long roll. Twist the dough and loop it into a wreath on the prepared baking sheet. Pinch the ends together to complete the circle. Cover the dough with a towel and let rise 45 minutes or until the wreath doubles in volume.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Brush the top and sides of the cake with egg wash and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Place on a wire rack to cool. At this time, it's traditional to hide a small (1-inch) plastic doll in the cake (push it into the cake from the bottom).

For the icing: Combine the confectioners' sugar with the lemon juice and 3 tablespoons water; mix until smooth. If the icing is too thick, add additional water as needed.

Decorate the cake: Spread the icing over the King Cake and immediately decorate with the colored sugars in alternating rows, making about 6 rows of colors.

Per serving: 282 calories, 5 gm protein, 45 gm carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 94 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 277 mg sodium

By Jane Touzalin  |  February 10, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags: Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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