New Orleans King Cake

I’ve heard a lot of comments about column on Mardi Gras food in the Herald on Wednesday (Feb. 10) Most of them have been about how tasty Creole and Cajun food is to the palate.

This morning, John Bridewell, associate professor at UND’s John D. Odegaard School of Aerospace Sciences, mentioned to me that he lived in Lousiana and talked about the good food there.

He also said one day he was looking for an egg substitute like Egg Beaters because he watches his cholesterol. When he inquired about it with a local woman, she told him, "Honey, nothing here is healthy."

Well, that statement isn’t completely true, but there are a lot of dishes that are associated with New Orleans, Louisiana and Mardi Gras that probably wouldn’t be considered heart-healthy. But as I like to stress, all foods do fit. It’s just that there are some that require you use moderation.

Here’s a recipe for a traditional New Orleans and Mardi Gras dessert, King Cake, which might not exactly be considered diet fare. But heck, we all have to splurge once in a while. Just don’t eat the doll.

King Cake
½ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees) 2 packages active dry yeast
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3½ to 4½ cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ cup warm milk
5 egg yolks
1 stick butter, cut into slices and softened, plus 2 tablespoons more softened butter
1 egg, slightly beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1-inch plastic baby doll
Colored sugars
Green, purple and yellow decorating paste
12 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
3 to 6 tablespoons water
Pour the warm water into a small shallow bowl, and sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar into it.
Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for 3 minutes; then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm place for 10 minutes or until yeast bubbles up and mixture almost doubles in volume. Combine 3½ cups flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt, and sift into a large mixing bowl. Stir in lemon zest.
Separate center of mixture to form a hole and pour in yeast mixture and milk. Add egg yolks and, using a wooden spoon, slowly combine dry ingredients into the yeast/milk mixture. When mixture is smooth, beat in 8 tablespoons butter (1 tablespoon at a time) and continue to beat 2 minutes or until dough can be formed into a medium-soft ball.
Place ball of dough on a lightly floured surface and knead like bread. While kneading, sprinkle up to 1 cup more of flour (1 tablespoon at a time) over the dough. When dough no longer is sticky, knead 10 minutes more until shiny and elastic.
Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of a large bowl evenly with 1 tablespoon softened butter. Place dough ball in the bowl and rotate until the entire surface is buttered. Cover bowl with a moderately thick kitchen towel and place in a draft-free spot for about 1½ hours or until the dough doubles in volume. Using a pastry brush, coat a large baking sheet with 1 tablespoon butter and set aside.
Remove dough from bowl and place on lightly floured surface. Using your fist, punch dough down forcefully. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top, pat, and shake dough into a cylinder. Twist dough to form a curled cylinder and loop cylinder onto the buttered baking sheet. Pinch the ends together to complete the circle. Cover dough with towel and set it in draft-free spot for 45 minutes or until the circle of dough doubles in volume. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brush top and sides of cake with egg wash and bake on middle rack of oven for 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Place cake on wire rack to cool. If desired, you can hide the plastic baby in the cake at this time.
To make colored icing: Squeeze a dot of green paste in palm of hand. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over the paste and rub together quickly. Place this mixture on wax paper and wash hands to remove color. Repeat process for other colors. Place aside.
To make icing: Combine confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons water until smooth. If icing is too stiff, add more water until spreadable. Spread icing over top of cake. Immediately sprinkle the colored sugars in individual rows consisting of about 2 rows of green, purple and yellow. Cake is served in 2- to 3-inch pieces