This recipe is based on one posted by Chef Emeril Lagasse on emerils.com. It has been modified and tweaked through much trial and error to make it as foolproof as possible.
Some sources say you can make King Cake dough in a bread machine, but since this dough is a brioche dough, which does not need to be kneaded or handled as much as regular bread dough, we cannot vouch for results obtained if you make the dough in a bread machine. If you want to try, add the ingredients in the order specified in your bread machine’s manual.
2 envelopes active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
1 cup warm milk (about 110°F)*
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 sticks (twelve tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted (about 110°F)*
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or bread flour (or a combination of the two)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (approx. the zest of one large lemon)
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
*Hint: It is very important that these ingredients be as close to 110°F as possible. Use a candy/frying thermometer to make sure liquids are neither too cool nor too hot.)
Cream Cheese Filling:
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature*
1 cup confectioner’s sugar*
1 can any flavor pie filling* (optional)
1 plastic king cake baby, a pecan half, an almond, a dried bean, or a coin
*Hint: If you are doing cream cheese and fruit filling together, we would suggest using half as much cream cheese filling (8 oz. cream cheese, 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar) and fruit filling (half a can), or else you’ll have a really hard time closing up the dough. Do not use the soft, spreadable cream cheese that comes in a tub, in this recipe or any other recipe! It is not made for such purposes. Buy the cream cheese that comes in a block.
Cinnamon Filling (optional, instead of the Cream Cheese Filling)
1 cup light or dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons milk, at room temperature
3 tablespoons milk, at room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (approx. the juice of one large lemon)
Vanilla Glaze (optional, instead of the Lemon Glaze):
4 tablespoons milk, at room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Hint: We recommend the Lemon Glaze for a fruit-filled King Cake, and the Vanilla Glaze for a cinnamon-filled King Cake.
Purple-, green-, and gold-tinted sugar sprinkles
Proof the yeast by dissolving it in 1/2 cup of the warm milk mixed with one teaspoon of the granulated sugar. This mixture should begin foaming within five minutes. Then, mix this yeast mixture with the other 1/2 cup of warm milk in a mixing bowl. Add rest of the granulated sugar and fit mixer with the regular beater (not the whisk or dough hook). Beat at low speed for 1 minute. Add the melted butter. Beat at low speed for 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the egg yolks, then beat for 1 minute at medium-low speed. Remove the beater from the mixer and fit mixer with the dough hook. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest. Add the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients and beat until everything is incorporated. Increase the speed and knead just until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, forms a ball, and starts to climb up the dough hook. Do not over-knead.
Remove the dough from the bowl. Using your hands, gently form the dough into a smooth ball, taking care not to knead the dough too much. Lightly oil a bowl with the vegetable oil (or a little melted butter). Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Follow one of the three options below for filling:
1. For Cream Cheese (or Cream Cheese and Fruit) Filling:
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar. Blend by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed. Set aside.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your fingers, pat it out into a rectangle about 30 inches long and 6 inches wide.
Spread the filling lengthwise over the bottom half of the dough. If desired, spread one can of apple, strawberry, blueberry, or any other variety of pie filling on top of cream cheese filling–if using cream cheese filling and fruit filling, it’s easier to handle if you use only half as much cream cheese filling (8 oz. cream cheese, 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar) and half as much fruit filling (half a can)–then flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together. Shape the dough into a cylinder and place it on the prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Shape the dough into a ring and pinch the ends together so there isn’t a seam.
2. For Fruit Filling:
Follow the same method as above, but omit the cream cheese mixture, spreading only the pie filling (one full can) on the dough. Shape the dough as above.
3. For Cinnamon Filling:
Mix the cup of brown sugar, the cup of granulated sugar, and the cinnamon in a medium sized bowl. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough out to a large rectangle, about 36 inches long by 18 inches wide. Cut the rectangle lengthwise into three equal strips. Brush each strip with melted butter and sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over each strip. Roll each strip lengthwise, like a jelly roll, then braid the resulting cylinders of dough. Place the braided dough on the prepared baking sheet. Shape the dough into a ring and pinch the ends together so there isn’t a seam.
Insert the “mystery item” (king cake baby, pecan half, almond, dried bean, or coin) into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough.
Cover the ring with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Mix together the beaten egg and the two tablespoons of milk. Brush the top of the risen cake with this mixture. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
For lemon glaze, combine the 3 tablespoons milk, the lemon juice, and the 3 cups confectioner’s sugar. For vanilla glaze, use 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract instead of the lemon juice and increase the milk from 3 tablespoons to 4 tablespoons. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread the glaze evenly over the top of the cake.
Sprinkle with the sugar crystals, alternating colors around the cake.
The cake is traditionally cut into 2-inch-thick slices with all the guests in attendance. The guest who gets the mystery item is the one who has to make or buy a King Cake for the next party! (Preferably at least one King Cake party per week between Epiphany and Mardi Gras!)
Yield: 20 to 22 servings