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Cooking on the Go: Louisiana King Cake

A Royal Treat

From its origins in 12th century Europe, King Cake morphed into many variations worldwide. Originally, the sweet yeast confection was the highlight of the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, the day when the three kings followed the star to the infant Christ child. The cake came to the Americas with the Spanish and French and became one of the most beloved folk foods in the Louisiana Territory.

In the Pelican State, a tiny plastic baby is tucked into the dough to represent the baby Jesus. The person who gets the piece of cake with that figure is named king for the day and is believed to have good luck throughout the coming year. In some traditions, that person must be treated to lunch by co-workers once a week all year. In Mexico, the finder of the trinket (often a bean, nut, or piece of dried fruit) makes the tamales for Candlemas (February 2, honoring the presentation of the baby Jesus).

King cake is not only part of the holiday season in Louisiana. It’s also shipped all year to troops around the globe, to students who are away at school, and to homesick Louisianans everywhere. What’s more, commercial Louisiana bakeries offer half a dozen or more flavors of king cake, and home cooks have their own cherished recipes. Variations include sprinkling chopped pralines or chocolate chips over the filling or flavoring the filling with jam, chocolate, bourbon, liqueurs, or different flavoring extracts.

If you prefer to make your own sweet dough, choose a recipe rich in eggs, sugar, and butter—such as brioche dough. To make our shortcut version, buy frozen bread dough, and add extra sugar and butter. Caution: it’s a hazard to hide a tiny trinket in a cake, even though everyone knows it’s there. A walnut or pecan is safer and just as much fun. Be especially wary when serving the cake to children.

Filling

  • 8-ounce package of cream cheese
  • ½ cup of powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon extract

Soften the cream cheese, and mix it well with the nutmeg, lemon extract, and powdered sugar.

Frosting

  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Milk

Put the powdered sugar in a bowl with the vanilla, and add milk a half teaspoon at a time, mixing well each time, until it’s thick and spreadable.

Cake

  • 1 “loaf” of frozen white bread dough
  • 1 stick of butter, softened
  • ½ cup of sugar
  • Candy sprinkles or colored sugar

Have the filling ready, and set the oven for 350 degrees. Thaw the dough, and roll it into a thin rectangle. Dot the dough with half the butter, and sprinkle it with the ½ cup of sugar. Spread the filling on the dough evenly, placing the trinket or nut anywhere on it. Roll up dough and form it into a ring. Moisten the edges and tuck the ends under to seal it. Melt the remaining butter, and brush it all over the ring. Place the dough ring on a greased baking sheet, and snip it with scissors every 2 inches so that the dough can rise evenly. (Let it rise until it’s plump.) Bake the ring for about 30 minutes, until it’s golden brown. Let it cool, frost it, and cover it with the sprinkles or colored sugar.