Get in the Mardi Gras spirit with a king cake

Published 2:35 am Saturday, February 6, 2016

We have spent the entire month of January in North Carolina—-not like the Gulf Coast in being tuned to Carnival and Mardi Gras. But I did see king cake this year in the local grocery in Wilmington.

king-cake-III king-cake

The usual king cake available to buy is a brioche-style cake streaked with layers of buttery-cinnamon filling and made with an added layer of raw sugar crystals in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. I find these a bit dry. I like my cakes moist and would rather have one made with a filling of cream cheese, pudding, or fruit compote.

The tradition of hiding a prize inside the king cake dates back to 17th century France and even earlier into Greco-Roman polytheism. What began with baking in a red bean, evolved into more extravagant treats: coins, diamonds, and gold. Donald Entringer, owner of the popular New Orleans bakery McKenzie’s, began baking miniature china dolls into his king cakes in the 1950s. Thus began the present prevalent tradition. A plastic infant representing the baby Jesus is most common, and the party-goer whose slice contains the trinket is bestowed with good luck and crowned king/queen of the party, but also renders the winner responsible for the next king cake.

The following recipe is for the classic French king cake, a puff pastry tart filled with an almond-brandy-butter filling.


King Cake or Galette de Rois

8-10 servings

This recipe is from Executive Chef Kristen Essig of Meaubar in New Orleans who credits her friend, Chef Anne Kearney, for introducing her to the recipe. I found it in February’s “Palate” magazine.

Nonstick cooking spray

1 cup granulated sugar, separated

1 pound all-butter puff pastry (Check the package. Puff pastry made with vegetable shortening is not as high-quality as puff pastry made with real butter.)

1 ½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

3 eggs

3 tablespoons brandy

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

¾ cup almond meal

¼ cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 king cake baby, optional

Powdered sugar, for dusting


1. Prepare 8-inch tart pan with removable bottom by spraying with cooking spray and dusting with ¼ cup granulated sugar. Remove bottom of pan, and grease, then sugar, inside of rim.

2. Divide puff pastry in half. Work with half of pastry at a time, keeping other half refrigerated. Roll out first half to 1/8 inch thick, 9 inch diameter round. Place into prepared tart pan, allowing about 1 inch to drape over sides of pan Refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Roll second half of pastry to 1/8 inch thick, 9 inch diameter round. Place on sheet pan, and refrigerate until ready to assemble cake.

4. Place butter and remaining ¾ cup sugar into bowl of stand mixer fitter with paddle attachment, then cream until smooth and light in color. Add 2 eggs to mixture, one at a time, incorporating first egg fully before adding second. Fold in brandy and vanilla.

5. Mix together almond meal and flour in separate bowl, then fold into butter mixture.

6. In another bowl, whisk together remaining egg and heavy cream. Pour almond filling into tart pan lined with prepared puff pastry. Brush rim of puff pastry with egg/cream glaze, then place second rolled out pastry round on top. Press edges down against outside of pan to seal. Cut off excess. Refrigerate glaze and tart overnight.

7. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

8. Place tart pan on baking sheet then brush top of cake with egg/cream glaze. Using sharp paring knife, score top of pastry in half circles working your way from center to edge. Be careful not to cut through pastry, just score.

9. Bake tart until cake has puffed and turned golden brown, approximately 25-30 minutes. Place on wire rack to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving and sneak that king cake baby into bottom of tart.

Laissez le bon temps rouler!