I have always, always, always loved King Cake for Mardi Gras! With today, “Fat Tuesday”, being the last official day of Mardis Gras in the States and Carnival around the world . . . I have just sunk my teeth into a divine King Cake like no other! This cake has a cinnamon apple filling combined with cream cheese and topped with an icing. Of course the beautiful finale is the traditional green, yellow, and purple colored sugars sprinkled on top.
I seriously blew my diet with this cake! And warm straight out of the oven, it was irresistable. Thank goodness there is tomorrow to start all over again!
This ring-shaped confection is rich in tradition, especially known for it’s shape, color and taste. I always look forward to seeing how other bakers incorporate the trademark decorations on the cake: the colored sugars in the royal hues of purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power), that honor the three kings who visited the Christ child on Epiphany, the last day of the 12 Days of Christmas.
The round circular shape symbolizes the circular route taken by the three kings to confuse King Herod who was attempting to follow the wise men so that he could kill the Christ child.
King Cake originated in Europe and is also known as Twelfth Night Cake because it is always prepared during the period between the Twelfth Night of Christmas (January 6) and Ash Wednesday.
The King Cake was brought over to America and is a New Orleans tradition in which a small plastic baby honoring Jesus is baked inside and shared with others to enjoy. It is considered good luck to come upon the person who gets the slice with the baby in it and whom also must host the next Mardis Gras party with the King Cake. This person is also declared the king or queen of the party. After the plastic baby is discovered, you are to place the honorable toy baby on the top of the cake for all to see and think of Jesus. What a fun and delicious tradition!
Many King Cake recipes have a cream cheese filling and some recipes don’t, but recipes also abound with a cinnamon-apple filling along with cream cheese. You can also add raisins and nuts if you like. The cake is often braided and flavored with cinnamon. Sweeter and fancier King Cakes with rich fillings are the trendier rage currently, so I had to try one. In fact, an increasing variety of incredible fillings become available each year, especially in New Orleans where one might think that bakeries try to outdo each other! Traditionalists can still enjoy the rather plain original cakes with just colored sugar sprinkled on a light icing on top and still indulge in a delicious treat. But I don’t need to describe how incredible the cinnamon apple and cream cheese filling combination is, so I hope you’ll try this recipe!
Hope you have enjoyed or are currently enjoying your Mardi Gras or Carnivale celebrations around the globe!
Cinnamon Apple Filling
- 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
- 2 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
Cream Cheese Filling
- 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 beaten egg (save the other half egg to make the egg wash for the cake), at room temperature
Cream Cheese Glaze
- 2 ounces (¼ of an 8-ounce package) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup (½ stick) butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- 3/4 cup milk, divided
- 1 package (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
- 2 eggs, plus ½ beaten egg (use the remaining half egg leftover from the cream cheese filling), divided, at room temperature
- 10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
- 3 1/2 cups (15.75 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Purple, green and yellow colored sugars for decorating
- Plastic baby, if desired
Prepare Cinnamon Apple Filling
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.
- Stir in the apple slices, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, and cook, stirring frequently, just until the apple starts to soften, 3 to 4 minutes (the slices should still be crisp).
- Spread the apple mixture onto a baking sheet to stop the cooking process and allow the apples to cool quickly, then cover and refrigerate until needed.
For the Cream Cheese Filling
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese with the vanilla, salt and sugar.
- Add the beaten egg to the cream cheese mixture and beat until thoroughly combined.
- Cover and refrigerate until needed.
For the Cream Cheese Glaze
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a medium bowl using a hand mixer, whisk together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt until completely combined.
- With the mixer running, add the sifted powdered sugar, one spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.
Preparation of the Brioche Dough and Assembly of Cake
- In a small pan, heat one-half cup plus 2 tablespoons of milk over medium heat just until warmed.
- Remove from heat and pour the milk into a small bowl or measuring cup.
- Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar, then set aside until the milk is foamy and the yeast is activated, about 10 minutes.
- Whisk the 2 eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
- Stir in the yeast mixture and remaining one-third cup of sugar until fully incorporated.
- If using a stand mixer, switch to the paddle attachment.
- With the mixer running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
- With the mixer running, add the flour mixture, one spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.
- Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and somewhat silky (it’s a rich dough and won’t be entirely smooth), 5 to 7 minutes.
- Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl and lightly cover with plastic wrap.
- Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours.
- Meanwhile, make an egg wash: Combine the remaining beaten half egg with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk.
- When the dough is doubled, punch it down (it will be very smooth and elastic) and roll it out onto a lightly floured surface into a 10-by-28-inch rectangle.
- Lightly score the dough lengthwise to divide the dough into 2 equal halves.
- Spoon the apple filling down the length of one side, leaving a 1½-inch border on the top, bottom and sides.
- Repeat with the cream cheese filling down the other side of the dough, leaving a 1½-inch border on the top, bottom and each side.
- Lightly brush the edges and center of the dough (along the score) with the egg wash to moisten.
- Gently and carefully pull the dough over the cream cheese filling, sealing the edge of the dough along the score mark.
- Repeat with the apple filling.
- Press the sealed edges, making sure they are secure (otherwise the fillings could spill out while the cake bakes).
- Gently twist the length of the dough to form a braid-like shape. Wrap the dough so it forms an oval wreath and gently press the edges together.
- Carefully transfer the wreath to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Brush the top of the wreath lightly with egg wash and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
- Let the dough rise until almost doubled in volume, 45 minutes to an hour, or loosely cover and refrigerate the dough overnight, removing it from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking for the dough to come to room temperature.
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly brush the wreath with any remaining egg wash and place the sheet in the oven.
- Bake the cake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (the toothpick will remain moist if it hits the cream cheese filling, but there should be no crumbs sticking to it), about 30 minutes.
- Rotate the pan halfway through baking for even coloring.
- Allow the cake to cool slightly before it is frosted (if it’s too hot, the glaze will run off the cake and not adhere).
- Drizzle the glaze evenly over the cake, then lightly sprinkle over the colored sugars. If using the plastic baby, hide it somewhere in the cake (press the baby in through the bottom of the cake so as not to disturb the top or sides of the cake).
- Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.