Mardi Gras King Cake

I love King Cake.  I know it's typically just for Mardi Gras...but I make it year round.  I love it that much.  If you've never had it, the first thing you have to know is that it's not really a cake.  It's more like the best cinnamon roll you've ever had in your life.  King Cake is a yeast bread with a filling that usually consists of cinnamon and sometimes nuts and raisins, as well.  Topped with an orange glaze, this cake is great for breakfast...a snack...dessert....or anytime you need a pick-me-up!

Yields 1 King Cake...servings depend on how generous you feel like being.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (1/4 oz.) package of active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
  • 5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (divided, 2+2+1)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (divided, 1/2 + 1/4)
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened (should almost be the consistency of mayonnaise)
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup bourbon (or Southern Comfort... or Triple Sec...pick your favorite or whatever you have on hand)
  • 3/4 cup dark brown stage, packed
  • 2/3 cup toasted pecans, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Zest from 1 orange
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons fresh orange juice (from that orange you just zested...)
  • Purple, green, and gold sanding sugars
  • Plastic baby or bean

Instructions:

  1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer with the hook attachment, combine yeast, 1/2 teaspoon of the granulated sugar, and 1/4 cup water (heated to 115 F).  Stir to combine and let sit until foamy; this should take about 10 minutes.
  2. Add remaining sugar, milk, light brown sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla, egg, and egg yolk.  Beat on a low speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Add flour and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and mix on medium speed until dough just comes together.
  3. Turn speed to high and beat dough for about 4 minutes.  Add softened butter and continue to beat until butter is completely incorporated, the dough is smooth and pulling away form the sides of the bowl (about 6 minutes).
  4. While dough is mixing, use butter, shortening, or a little vegetable oil to grease a large bowl.  When dough is finished mixing, pour into greased bowl and cover in plastic wrap.  Let sit in a warm place for about 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.
  5. Meanwhile, make the filling.  Over medium heat, combine raisins and bourbon in a small saucepan. Heat until raisins plump.  Remove from heat and add brown sugar, pecans, 2 teaspoons vanilla, cinnamon, orange zest, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  At this point, you can add a plastic baby or bean into the filling.  Set filling aside.

  6. Once dough has doubled in size, punch it down and turn it out onto a heavily floured surface.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangular shape, until the dough is about 1/4" thick.  

  7. Leaving a 1 inch border, spread filling evenly across dough.  Starting at the side closest to you and using the longest edge, roll the dough into a tube, jelly-roll style.  Pinch the seam so that the filling does not seep out.  Also, pinch together the two ends of the end to form a circle.  It helps to overlap the ends a little.

  8. Transfer dough roll to a baking sheet lined in parchment paper.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about 1 1/2 hours, until the roll doubles in size.

  9. Once dough has risen, remove plastic wrap and preheat your oven to 350 F.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until crust is golden brown.

  10. Transfer cake to a wire rack and let cool completely.

  11. Once cake has completely cooled, make the glaze.  Combine powdered sugar, remaining 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and enough orange juice to reach your desired consistency in a bowl and whisk until well combined.  You want the glaze to be rather thick.
  12. Spread glaze evenly over the cake and sprinkle with colored sanding sugars.  You can decorate with bands of cake or a random mix...whatever you like!
  13. Eat and enjoy...and watch out for that baby (or bean)!