Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Brioche King Cake with Apple Cinnamon Cream Cheese Filling

Mardi Gras, like most (read: all) of our traditional Coastal MS holidays, is marked by some specific food items. Just like I rarely eat a praline outside of Christmastime, there is no getting moon pies before the first parade and after Fat Tuesday. And buying them is out of the question. The only way to procure a moon pie is to catch the slightly crushed one that comes flying off a Mardi Gras float at a parade. The rest of the year they might as well (but, curiously, do not) vanish from the Earth. King cakes are the same way. I think you can get them in the bakery section of our local Louisiana-based grocery store most of the year but...I'm not 100% sure on that. At any rate, I have no idea why they would bother. Apart from tourists who, bless their hearts, might not be able to visit during actual carnival season, I don't know anybody who eats king cake when it's not Mardi Gras.

In case it doesn't go without saying, I adore king cake. And around here, there's a hierarchy. The aforementioned Louisiana-based grocery store makes a pretty fine one, but the true king of the king cake comes from Paul's Pastry Shop in Picayune, MS. Everybody knows it, and it will probably always be an uncontested fact. Show up at a Mardi Gras party with a Paul's King Cake (especially filled with cream cheese or strawberry or some such) and you done good.

If you make your own, though, you done even gooder.

 Brioche King Cake with 
Apple Cinnamon Cream Cheese Filling

The recipe I used is the LA Times' King Cake Recipe, and it is a little bit complicated, especially if you've never made bread before. And you'll want to set aside at least four hours (thanks to two hours of rising). But, fear not. I'm here to hold your hand and explain how things should look and feel every step of the way. Mmk? So let's get goin.

Ingredients: Brioche Dough
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
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

I make the dough first, because it has to rise twice and leaving the fillings and glaze until later helps pass the time. 

Heat 1/2 cup plus 2 T milk in a small pan until it's about the temperature of a hot bath. Too cold and the yeast won't wake up, too hot and they die.

Remove from heat and pour the milk into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar (yeast snackage), then set aside until the milk is foamy and the yeast is activated, about 10 minutes.

<-------Should look like this.

Whisk the 2 eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment until light and fluffy,
 about 1 minute. 
Stir in the yeast mixture and remaining one-third cup of sugar until fully incorporated.

Switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated. Don't worry if it doesn't smooth out completely. I started adding flour when my mixture still had tic-tac sized bits of butter spinning around, and it came out fine.

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.

DO NOT throw the flour in all at once. Unless you get a kick out of cleaning flour off your ceiling. Forever.

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. 

I kneaded mine for exactly 5 minutes, because I am lazy.

King cake: still fab.

 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. To make a faux warmer: turn the oven on warm with a pan (casserole, muffin, whatever) of warm water on the lower rack. Turn the oven off after about a minute and adjust the temperature inside by leaving the door open and sticking your arm in. It should feel like a comfortable place to laze around.

Double check there are no nasty children in your house who will mistake you for a witch, and push your unsuspecting be-hind into the appliance. It happens.

While the dough is rising, make your apple cinnamon and cream cheese fillings, 
and your cream cheese glaze.

Ingredients: Apple Cinnamon Filling
2 tablespoons butter
2 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices (I went on to dice them because I thought they'd make a nicer filling. Your call.)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces

 In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the apple slices/bits, 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). Remove from heat and stir in the raisins and toasted pecans**. 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.

**How to toast pecans: spread in an even layer on a baking sheet, place in preheated 350 degree oven, and toast for 3-5 minutes. No oil needed; they make their own.
 You'll smell them when they're ready.

Ingredients: Cream Cheese Filling
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
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)

 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.


 Ingredients: Cream Cheese Glaze
2 ounces (¼ of an 8-ounce package) cream cheese
1/4 cup (½ stick) butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

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. I...did not sift my powdered sugar. Did I mention I'm lazy? And my glaze came out fine. Also, I worried, as you might, that the cream cheese glaze looks pretty thick to really qualify as "glaze." But you apply it to the cake while it's still warm, so it's all good. Not to worry.

After 1 1/2 hours, your dough should have doubled in size. 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 (do not actually cut) the dough lengthwise to divide the dough into 2 equal halves. 

Spoon the apple filling down the middle 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.


 Make an egg wash: Combine the remaining beaten half egg with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk.

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).

  Carefully 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. Transfer the wreath to a parchment-lined baking sheet. I needed a buddy to help with this one (thanks, Michelle!). If you don't have a buddy, try a hard spatula or cardboard cake plate.

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 (wherever you want, honey. You worked hard.) 

Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

**To make colored sugars: put about 4 T each white sugar into 3 plastic bags. Add green, purple, and gold/yellow food coloring, one color per bag. Close bag, and mix by mashing around with fingers until desired color is reached and evenly distributed.

That's it, cher! You've done it! I know it was a lot of work, but if you have all your ingredients ready from the start and have an afternoon to kill, it's not a pain at all. The brioche dough works WONDERFULLY, even if (like me) you're not much of a bread baker. And the finished product is perfect: not overly sweet, with a chewy, buttery cake and a smooth, spicy filling. Please let me know what you thought of my instructions! And if you DO make one of these you better come to my house and I'll fix us some coffee. And we'll have us a slice or five.
Happy Mardi Gras, yall!


Ellen Pelletier said...

I made your king cake a few weeks ago, and it was delicious! I didn't do pecans (husband is allergic) or raisins. Just did the apple cinnamon & cream cheese fillings.

Here are links to some photos:

Thank you for the recipe!

Oh, the Humidity! said...

So glad it turned out well for you! Your pictures are gorgeous :) Thanks for stopping by!

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