King Cake crowns feasts of Epiphany
King Cake from Bennison's Bakery in Evanston. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
(From Jory Downer)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup warm milk
2 envelopes dry active yeast
In large mixing bowl. Combine milk, sugar and yeast. Let stand about 5-10 minutes until yeast foams.
½ cup sugar
4½-5½ cups bread flour, (like Gold Medal Better for Breads flour)
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons fine salt
1 stick butter, unsalted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
Zest from ¼ lemon, zested fine
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Place milk, butter, sugar and salt in microwave-safe bowl. Heat to just melt butter and warm milk. Let stand until slightly warm.
Beat eggs and egg yolks into yeast, add the milk mixture when lukewarm.
Add about half of the flour, stir with a wooden spoon. Gradually add remaining flour, about ½ cup at a time, until soft and not sticky. Then turn out onto work surface and continue kneading flour into dough.
When all flour is incorporated, knead about 5-10 minutes. Grease large bowl with soft butter, place dough inside and cover with a damp cloth. Let sit until double in size, about two hours.
Punch down when doubled. Roll out to about 18-inch x 36-inch rectangle. Brush with additional melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (1 cup sugar plus 1-1½ tablespoons cinnamon).
Cut dough into three strips, rolling each, and then braid. Join braided dough in a circle, place on cookie pan lined with parchment paper. Cover with a damp towel and let rise again until almost double in size.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. When dough is doubled, mix one egg with one tablespoon of milk. Brush dough with mixture and place in oven. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking 20-30 minutes.
Decorating: Mix one cup powdered sugar with 2-3 teaspoons of milk. Glaze cake when slightly cooled and warm. Sprinkle on separate sections of gold, purple and green-colored sugar over glaze.
Updated: January 4, 2013 7:22AM
The last crumbs of the Bûche de Noël are hardly swept away and it’s time for King Cake.
The dessert, a crowning jewel of Epiphany feasts the world over, is not only a Mardi Gras treat. It’s a symbol of the birth of Jesus Christ marking Epiphany, Jan. 6, that honors of the tradition of the three kings’ visit to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. In medieval times it was Twelfth Night, the official end of Christmas revels.
So about the time those last cherries from Aunt Fern’s fruitcake are history, bakers begin kneading, punching and braiding yeast dough to satisfy King Cake enthusiasts.
One of those enthusiasts is Luann Gawlick. The Evanston resident will place her annual order around the first of the year for three or four King Cakes at Bennison’s Bakery. On a work day close to the Epiphany, she and 20 of her office co-workers in Lincolnwood will get together at work to share the cakes.
Gawlick’s cakes have miniature plastic baby Jesus figures baked into the cake and whoever bites into one are tagged to bring food for the annual Fat Tuesday work lunch.
“I just think it is funny,” Gawlick says, “everybody getting a piece of the cake and seeing who gets the doll.” Last year, though, the laugh was on her. After that experience biting into a doll, she advises others to consume King Cake cautiously. Many cultures use a bean, rather than a toy baby, which mean good luck for the finder.
Persistence like that of the hard-traveled three wise men is equally important during the fermentation, or rising, of the baking process. “Be patient,” says Jory Downer. For 37 years, the award-winning baker has helmed the business his family has owned for 45 years. Next year, they’ll celebrate 80 years since the bakery was started by another family.
“If the dough doesn’t ferment long enough,” Downer says, “it’s not going to have enough strength to bloom like it should.” The dough should double in size in about two hours. Then it’s braided and must be allowed to rise to double in size again.
Bakers at Bennison’s will start making two styles of King Cake after Jan. 1. Here in the U.S., Downer estimates, the most popular is New Orleans-style King Cake. “They’re just more popular nationwide,” he says.
This King Cake, a ring of braided sweet bread, is decorated with symbolic colored sugar. Purple, symbolizing justice, green for faith and gold for power color the sugars sprinkled atop a white sugar glaze. The European variation, a cream-filled puff pastry known as Galette des Rois, is a more elegant option for the Epiphany.