After the Twelfth Night of Christmas, a culinary tradition begins in the South that most folks only associate with Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans – the colorful King Cake. Biblical tradition holds that kings visited the baby Jesus by traveling for 12 days to reach him on what we now call “Epiphany.” Beginning at Epiphany and lasting only until Mardi Gras day, the tradition of a King Cake in the Southern United States has evolved from what was brought by European settlers in the 1700s to what we now recognize as one of the preeminent symbols of the revelry of Mardi Gras.
Today, King Cakes are used to select Mardi Gras Kings and Queens as well as to celebrate the season in households and at parties across the country. King Cakes have many looks, the most classic being a crown shaped pastry dotted with the sugared colors of Carnival: purple, gold and green. Some have fillings, others do not, though they all house a hidden trinket like a plastic (formerly porcelain) baby. The trinket hidden inside each cake adds to its popularity, although the uninitiated often fail to recognize that finding the trinket inside your piece of cake may come not only with privileges (good fortune and/or becoming the King or Queen of the ball) but just as often with responsibilities (bringing the next cake!). King Cake was served at my baby shower by my daughter’s marraine (her Godmother, to you un-cajun-ites!), and I served King Cake at the baby shower I hosted for my daughter’s marraine (mah-rehn) in return.
Until now, I was unable to enjoy anything but the tiny plastic baby trinket I found in my King Cake, as I had never had a gluten-free version. This cinnamon-roll-like creation is fast becoming a family favorite here, as the first one I made was devoured in a single evening! You’ll love it too!
- 1/4 cup warm water (110 F)
- 1 Tbs. granulated cane sugar
- 2 1/4 tsp. (1 packet) highly active, fast rise yeast (e.g. Red Star® Quick Rise Instant Gluten-Free Yeast)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter or non-dairy alternative (e.g. Earth Balance® Buttery Sticks)
- 3 Tbs. granulated cane sugar
- 1/4 cup warm milk (dairy or non-dairy)
- 2 large eggs (room temperature)
- 3 cups Jules Gluten Free™ All-Purpose Flour
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 2 tsp. gluten-free baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt (1/4 tsp. salt if using non-dairy alternative)
- 2 Tbs. milk (dairy or non-dairy) for brushing on pastry before baking
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup Jules Gluten Free™ All Purpose Flour
- 1 apple, peeled and chopped (optional)
- 2/3 cup chopped pecans (optional)
- 4 Tbs. butter or non-dairy alternative (e.g. Earth Balance® Buttery Sticks)
- 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
- 1-2 Tbs. milk (dairy or non-dairy)
- 1/4 tsp. pure almond extract (optional)
- colored sugar (purple, gold and green)
Prepare the filling by tossing the chopped apples together with the Jules Gluten Free™ All Purpose Flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, melt the 4 tablespoons butter, and set both bowls aside.
In a small bowl, combine the warm water, 1 tablespoon sugar and yeast; stir and set aside to proof. If the mixture is not bubbly and doubled in volume after 5-10 minutes, toss out and start again with fresh yeast.
In a large mixing bowl, blend the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the milk and eggs and beat until well-integrated. Add only 2 cups of Jules Gluten Free™ All Purpose Flour, salt, baking powder and nutmeg and mix well. Stir in the proofed yeast-sugar-water mixture, then add the remaining 1 cup Jules Gluten Free™ All Purpose Flour. Beat another 1-2 minutes, until the dough is clumping together and is not too sticky.
Prepare a large baking sheet by lining with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a silicone pastry mat or onto a clean counter dusted lightly with Jules Gluten Free™ All Purpose Flour (be sure to have enough counter space, at least 30 inches wide). Roll the dough out to an elongated rectangle 24-30 inches long by 9-10 inches wide. Brush on the melted butter, coating the entire rectangle. Sprinkle the filling mixture on top of the melted butter, spreading to the ends of the rectangle, but leaving 1/2-1 inch without toppings on each of the long sides of the rectangle.
Using a bench scraper or a spatula, gently peel up one of the long sides of the rectangle and begin rolling it as you would a jelly roll. Once the entire pastry is rolled upon itself until no pastry remains unrolled, a 24-30 inch long roll will remain. Gently pull the two ends of the roll together to form a circle or oval. Dabbing the ends of the pastry with water, join the ends together to close the circle. Gently transfer the ring to the parchment-lined baking sheet, or transfer the ring on the silicone baking mat to the baking sheet.
Brush the milk on top of the exposed pastry, then using a large sharp knife, make a cut in the top of the pastry every 2 inches to expose one layer of the roll. Spray a sheet of wax paper with cooking oil, then cover the cake and let rise in a warm spot for 20-30 minutes like a warming drawer or an oven heated to 200º F then turned off.
Preheat oven to 350º F (static) or 325º F (convection).
Remove the wax paper from the cake and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool. While cooling, mix icing ingredients and drizzle over the cake. Sprinkle colored sugar on top of wet icing, alternating colors between each cut in the top of the cake. Once cooled, insert a pecan or toy baby into the underside of the cake to hide it. Serve when fully cooled.