How to make a Mardi Gras King Cake (John Besh recipe)

What better way to say/eat Mardi Gras than with a home-baked king cake, that delicate pastry with the purple, gold and green sprinkled icing. Some folks fill it with a sweet cream cheese or fruit or boudin, but this one’s the traditional king cake from New Orleans’ favorite chef (well, mine) John Besh.

If you want the praline-topped, banana-stuffed, gold-flecked king cake from Besh Chef Lisa White, here’s that recipe. Warning – it’s not for king cake wimps.

Mardi Gras King Cake

  • Servings: 10-12 slices
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

EQUIPMENT 

  • 2 mixing bowls (one large)
  • dough scraper
  • measuring equipment
  • thermometer
  • 3-4 ramekins
  • 2 cereal bowls
  • microplane
  • juicer
  • rubber spatula
  • large baking sheet (mine’s square)
  • parchment paper
  • 2 spatulas
  • serving platter

INGREDIENTS

For the cake:

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

  • 1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°F
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast (1 package)
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 5 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Several gratings of fresh nutmeg

For the icing:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Purple, green, and gold/yellow decorative sugars*
  • 1 fève (fava bean/red bean) or plastic baby to hide in the cake after baking

LET’S GET STARTED

For the cake, pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.

Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest. In a second mixing bowl, combine remaining flour, cinnamon and nutmeg and fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in the first bowl with a large rubber spatula.

After the dough comes together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl, shape it into a large ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.

Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a draft-free place to let it proof, or rise, for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 375°F. Now remove the dough from the bowl, punch it down and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces.

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

Roll each piece of dough between your palms into a long strip, making 3 ropes of equal length. Braid the 3 ropes around one another and then form the braided loaf into a circle, pinching ends together to seal.

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

Gently lay the braided dough on a nonstick cookie sheet and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes.

Once it’s doubled in size, place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake until the braid is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

ICING

While the cake is cooling, whisk together the powdered sugar, condensed milk and lemon juice in a bowl until the icing is smooth and very spreadable. If the icing is too thick, add a bit more condensed milk; if it’s a touch too loose, add a little more powdered sugar.

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

Once the cake has cooled, tuck the bean or plastic baby into the underside of the cake. Spread the icing over the top of the cake and sprinkle with purple, green and gold decorative sugars while the icing is still wet. Using a spatula, slide the cake onto a platter.

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

photo by Patsy R. Brumfield

* What if your grocer doesn’t have the right color sugar-sprinkles?

Apparently, I will dream up anything in a pinch. Couldn’t find purple sprinkles, so I came home, pulled out the food coloring and preheated my oven to about 170. In a small ramekin, I mixed up what the packing said would make “grape.” It looked weird, but I went ahead – what’s a 1/2-cup of raw sugar if it didn’t work? I poured the ½ teaspoon or so of color into the sugar, quickly mixed it, then into a parchment-paper-lined pie pan, I spread out the purple sugar. After it had “dried” in the oven for about 30 minutes, it was ready for the top of my king cake along with the green and yellow (no gold in town, but maybe I’ll try a little red coloring on the yellow to make a brighter tone). If your color/baked sugar comes out of the oven a little stuck together, just let it cool and break it apart. Simple.

Click here for previous recipes from Patsy.

Creative Commons License
This work by Patsy R. Brumfield is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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