Serving King Cake for Mardi Gras is a tradition in New Orleans that goes back to medieval France and was associated with the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, the day the three kings paid homage to a baby king. This dense yeast cake—flavored with cinnamon and sugar, and formed into a round shape to signify a crown—is liberally decorated with icing and yellow, green and purple sugars. Purple signifies justice, green faith and gold power. These colors were chosen to resemble a jeweled crown honoring the three wise men who visited the Christ child on Epiphany.
In the past, the cake was baked with a small trinket of a baby folded into the dough. Whoever got the lucky slice with the baby was declared king
(or queen) for the day. (Such things as coins, beans, pecans or peas were also hidden in each King Cake.) Today the baby is displayed on top or near
the cake, rather than baked into it.
8-ounce container sour cream
3/4 cup white sugar, plus 1 teaspoon, divided
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for buttering a bowl
1 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110ºF)
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
3–3½ cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup melted butter
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- In a saucepan, combine the sour cream, ¼ cup of white sugar, 2 tablespoons of butter and the salt. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is well combined. Set aside to cool.
- Proof the yeast in a small bowl with the water, and stir to combine until the yeast is well dissolved. Stir in 1 teaspoon white sugar and set aside.
- Add the yeast mixture to the sour cream mixture; add the eggs; combine well.
- Transfer the mixture to a stand mixer and, on medium speed, add the flour 1 cup at a time until a soft dough forms; you may not need all the flour. The dough should not be sticky. Transfer the dough to a work surface, and knead the dough for about 5 minutes or until it is smooth and not sticking to your hands. Transfer the dough to a buttered bowl; cover and let it rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
- Punch down the dough, and roll it out into a 12-inch-by-20-inch rectangle. Spread the ¼ cup melted butter evenly over the dough. In a small bowl, stir the cinnamon and ½ cup of white sugar together and sprinkle it evenly over the surface of the dough. Roll the dough up like a jellyroll, starting at the longest side near you. Pinch the seam and ends closed, and place the dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bring the two ends together and pinch
them closed. Cover and let it rise for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Bake the cake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. While cake is baking, make
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2–4 tablespoons half-and-half or milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Purple, green and yellow sparkling sugars
- In a bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar and enough half-and-half or milk to make a glaze with a smooth consistency. Stir in vanilla extract.
- Frost the top of the cake. Mix the colored sugars and sprinkle over the frosting.