A Mardi Gras King Cake

Although I'm Catholic and do recognize Lent, I do not, nor have I ever celebrated Mardi Gras. Heck, these days I would bet most 'celebrating' it aren't even aware what they are celebrating anyway! LOL. It's a time to head to New Orleans, go bra-less, party, drink yourself into a stupor and flash for beads. However, getting back to the roots; it's a time to drink and eat before the fasting begins for Lent, which runs through Easter.

Serving a King's Cake during Mardi Gras celebrations is a tradition that honors the Magi who visited the baby Jesus on the Epiphany (January 6). The cake is shaped in a ring with a plastic baby placed inside the dough, before baking, to represent the baby Jesus. The cake is then decorated with the purple, green and gold colors of Mardi Gras, and divided among guests. Whoever finds the baby doll will host the next King's Cake celebration or bring the next King's Cake to the celebration.

Because I've never made a King's Cake I had to search and mix and mingle some recipes. The yeast amount seems odd to me, but I meshed together two recipes - one from a church cookbook and another from Southern Living (2006) and they both seem to think the amount is ok. For those of you who celebrate; enjoy!

Mardi Gras King Cake

16 oz. container sour cream
1/3 c sugar
1/4 c butter
1 t salt
4 1/2 t active dry yeast
1/2 c warm water (100° to 110°)
T sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 cups bread flour
1/3 c butter, softened
1/2 c sugar
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon

Cook first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until butter melts. Set aside, and cool mixture to 100° to 110°. Stir together yeast, 1/2 cup warm water, and 1 tablespoon sugar in a 1-cup glass measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes.

Beat sour cream mixture, yeast mixture, eggs, and 2 cups flour at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until smooth. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add enough remaining flour (4 to 4 1/2 cups) until a soft dough forms.

Knead with the bread paddle about 7-8 minutes or turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead by hand until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top.

Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until dough is doubled in bulk.

Punch down dough, and divide in half. Roll each portion into a 22- x 12-inch rectangle. Spread 1/3 cup softened butter evenly on each rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border. Stir together 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle evenly over butter on each rectangle.

Roll up each dough rectangle, jelly-roll fashion, starting at 1 long side. Place one dough roll, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bring ends of roll together to form an oval ring, moistening and pinching edges together to seal. Repeat with second dough roll.

Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 20 to 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Bake at 375° for 14 to 16 minutes or until golden. Slightly cool cakes on pans on wire racks (about 10 minutes). Drizzle a powdered sugar glaze evenly over warm cakes; sprinkle with colored sugars, alternating colors. Let cool completely.

Cream Cheese-Filled King Cake: Prepare each 22- x 12-inch dough rectangle as directed. Omit 1/3 cup softened butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon. Increase 1/2 cup sugar to 3/4 cup sugar. Beat 3/4 cup sugar; 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened; 1 large egg; and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly on each dough rectangle, leaving 1-inch borders. Proceed with recipe as directed.

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