It’s Mardi Gras! And if you haven’t been celebrating with king cakes for the past month, you haven’t been celebrating properly.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry, I didn’t know until last year. Turns out living in Louisiana you learn pretty quick aalllll about Mardi Gras. The schools and colleges there even take Mardi Gras breaks! Then again, Fat Tuesday is a legal holiday in the state of Louisiana.
Let’s take a quick history lesson. Most people know that Mardi Gras translates to Fat Tuesday in English, and is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is when Catholics begin to observe Lent, so Mardi Gras is the last day to celebrate and partake in whatever food or drink you are giving up for Lent.
Did you know the first Mardi Gras celebration in the U.S. actually took place in Mobile, Alabama and not New Orleans? You may have noticed also that the traditional colors are purple, green and gold. Purple stands for justice, green is for faith, and gold is for power.
The Mardi Gras parades and balls were originally put on by secret societies (now called krewes) which is why you’ll see a lot of masks, as they were to hide the identities of the society members. These balls and parades have been going on since the 1800’s and have only gotten more elaborate over time. There are now a Mardi Gras King and Queen who preside over the parade and who often times make local appearances throughout the Carnival season.
Now back to the king cake. It is eaten in honor of the 3 wise men who brought the gifts to baby Jesus. And speaking of Jesus, there is traditionally a tiny plastic baby baked into the cake said to represent Him. It also means if you get the slice of cake with the baby in it, you’re required to buy the next King Cake for the group. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of these cakes are eaten each year in New Orleans alone! My coworkers insisted we had to special order a cake from New Orleans for my first because the Northern Louisiana bakeries (where we were) just didn’t do it right. This year one of them even shipped a NOLA king cake all the way to Idaho for me, just so I wouldn’t miss out! This is a serious holiday for them.
The cake itself reminds me a bit of a cinnamon roll, with a fluffy dough slathered in cream cheese and sprinkled with cinnamon, topped with a sugar glaze and doused in colored sugar. I’m not joking when I say I could smell the sugar from the king cake that was shipped to me before I could even open the box…they are sweet! But oh so good.
I really had no idea what I was missing in my life, but now I don’t think I can go another Mardi Gras without one. While I am beyond excited to be back in Idaho, this season is making me realize how much I miss the culture and food of Louisiana. (And my friends! I mean really, a king cake right to my door?!) This recipe is from Brooke at Chocolate + Marrow and she grew up in New Orleans. Her photography is beautiful, she’s ridiculously sweet and right now her, her husband and her dog are sailing through the Caribbean! How cool is that?! Make sure you follow her, you won’t regret it.
And you won’t regret making this king cake! Even if the recipe is a bit long and daunting 🙂 It will be worth it!
Mardi Gras Cream Cheese King Cake (recipe from Chocolate + Marrow)
*Note: this recipe makes 2 king cakes. Divide ingredients in half if you only want one cake, but I recommend making both and sharing with friends in the spirit of Mardi Gras 🙂
For Sugar Topping
- 1 1/2 c granulated sugar
- purple, yellow and green food coloring
- 16 oz plain yogurt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/3 c granulated sugar
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 c warm water
- 2 packages (4 1/2 tsp) active dry yeast
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 6 c bread flour
- 3/4 c granulated sugar
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 5 tbsp butter, melted
- 1/2 c granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 3 c powdered sugar
- 3 tbsp butter, melted
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 3-5 tbsp milk
- Divide sugar onto 3 separate plates. Add a few drops of each color food coloring to each plate and mash with a fork to mix. Keep adding food coloring until desired color is reached. Set aside to dry.
- Combine the yogurt, baking soda, 1/3 c of sugar, 5 tbsp butter and salt in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until butter melts. Set aside to cool.
- In large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1 tbsp sugar into the warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes.
- Pour the yogurt mixture, 2 eggs and 2 cups of bread flour into the mixing bowl and beat until blended. Continue adding 1 cup of bread flour at a time. The dough should be a slightly tacky ball and pulled away from the sides of the bowl. If it is still too sticky, add a little more bread flour.
- On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth, 5-10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
- While dough is rising, beat the 3/4 c sugar, cream cheese, 1 egg and vanilla until smooth. Set aside.
- Once dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide in to two equal parts. Roll each piece of dough into a rectangle, about 22 inches long and 12 inches wide (approximately).
- Brush the remaining 5 tbsp of melted butter over the top of each rectangle, stopping 1 inch from the edges. Mix the remaining 1/2 c of sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over the butter later.
- Spread the cream cheese filling in a thick 2-3 inch line along the long edge of each rectangle (don’t go past your 1 inch mark!)
- Starting on the long cream cheese edge, begin rolling your dough making sure the cream cheese is tucked into the first roll. Place on a greased baking sheet, seam side down. Bring the edges of the roll together, forming a large oval. Seal the ends together by pinching off with water. (Make sure they are sealed well, otherwise your cream cheese will leak)
- Cover your dough again and let rest for 20 more minutes. Preheat oven to 375.
- Bake for 18-25 minutes, until the outside is golden brown.
- While cake is baking, make the icing glaze. In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, butter, lemon juice, vanilla and 3 tbsp milk. If the consistency is too thick, add more milk 1 tbsp at a time until desired consistency is reached.
- Remove cake from oven and let cool slightly. Drizzle the icing all over both cakes.
- Mash colored sugars with fork again to soften, then sprinkle in alternating colored bands over icing.