Monday, February 23, 2009

King Cake!

Full disclosure: nothing about the following recipe is divided, downsized, or in any way related to something you might consider "small." But oh my word, the cake! Or, to be more accurate, the French sweet bread stuffed with cream cheese goo and covered in colored sugar! It takes patience and plenty of Mardi Gras spirit, and if you have a
tiny plastic baby, it takes that too. But if you want to make brioche, here's what Peter Reinhart of the James Beard Award winning book, 'The Bread Baker's Apprentice' has to say. If I were to do this all over again, I would most definitely half this recipe:

Middle Class Brioche
('Middle class' as opposed to 'Rich Man's Brioche', also in the book, which calls for twice as much butter)

1/2 cup bread flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup whole milk, lukewarm (90º–100º)

5 large eggs, beaten slightly
3 cups bread flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature butter

My additions to make it King-Cakey:
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, room temp
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla

2 oz cream cheese, soft
3-4 Tbsp milk
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
Colored sugars of yellow, green, and purple

1. First, make the sponge. Stir together flour and yeast, then add the milk, mixing till all is hydrated. Cover with plastic and let sit for about 20 minutes, till it looks bubbly and risen a little.

2. Once sponged, add the eggs and mix on medium speed (you'll need electric mixing of some kind for this beast) until smooth. Add flour, sugar, and salt, and mix on low speed until combined. What you now have is a giant lump of unmanageable muck. It gets worse, but then it gets better. Let it rest for 5 minutes to let the gluten develop. Then, cut the butter into 5 or 6 pieces, and add the pieces one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stop and scrape the sides down periodically. The dough will act like it is magnetically attracted to the paddle refuse to stay in the bowl at all (see right). Persevere. Keep mixing 5-6 minutes until the dough is well mixed and eerily soft. Seriously, touch it. It's weird.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and spray it down with oil. Turn the dough out and pat into an 8x6in rectangle. Cover in plastic and let it hang out in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.

4. Remove from fridge and, working while it's cold, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll dough into a super long and skinny rectangle, let's say 6 inches wide and about 30 inches long (yes, that's almost three feet). Mix the ingredients of the filling together and spread evenly along the rectangle. Roll one long 30-inch side over to meet the other 30-inch side and pinch it tight, so you have a long, skinny cylinder. Pull the two ends around to meet each other and pinch those shut. Place the ring on a greased baking sheet, seam side down. Cover it in lightly oiled plastic.

5. Now, in your oven where it is quiet and dark, put this baking sheet for 1-2 hours, and leave it alone to rise until at least doubled in size. Then, take it out, preheat the oven to 350º and stick that sucker back in. Bake it for about 25 minutes.

6 Remove from oven and cool on a rack AT LEAST one hour (if you can restrain yourself). Now comes the fun part. Mix up the icing to a pourable consistency and drizzle all over the cake. Cover with so much sprinkles you can barely see the cake underneath. Then eat it by golly, EAT IT!

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