King Cake

Today is “Fat Tuesday”, so in keeping with my Mardi Gras based recipes this week, I figured I would feature my king cake recipe. King cake is synonymous with Fat Tuesday. It is a time honored Mardi Gras cake that has been around for over 300 years.  It is said that hundreds of thousands of king cakes will be eaten just today alone!

If you have been to the grocery store this week than you probably have seen the prepackaged king cakes proudly displayed in their view top white boxes. The brightly colored Danish ring stands out among all the other everyday beige pastries. Every year I pass the tower of king cakes, back up my cart and stare at them with wondrous eyes. Something about them always calls to me.

This year I thought, maybe I will treat myself, maybe I will purchase one of these rings of deliciousness. So I picked up a cake, turned it over to see the ingredients and was amazed at how many there were. The ingredient label was quite honestly a good five inches long. Most of the ingredients I did not recognize (or could pronounce). I quietly put the cake back in its slot and continued on with my shopping.

While I was shopping at the grocery store, my mind kept going back to the king cake. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I knew I needed to create my own king cake at home. I wanted to make a king cake that was wholesome, healthy and tasted as good, if not better, than the cakes offered in the store.

Traditional king cake is made with a yeast dough outside and a cinnamon filling inside. King cake is similar to a cinnamon roll but with an evaluated flavor profile. Most of the ingredients in a traditional king cake are okay, but I, of course, wanted to replace the ones that were not and make the cake better.

The outside dough part of a traditional King cake has yeast, water, butter, sugar, whole milk (cream in some recipes), nutmeg, whole eggs, and salt.  Bleached all-purpose flour is generally the go to flour for most yeast dough recipes.  For this cake recipe you can use either unbleached all-purpose flour or go a step further and use white whole wheat flour.  Just keep in mind if you use white whole wheat flour the resulting cake will have a much denser, somewhat grittier texture.  The king cake photographed in this recipe page was created using white whole wheat flour.

Yeast is a somewhat temperamental ingredient.  I do love the nutty flavor it brings to dough so when a yeast dough is required for a recipe I jump at the chance.  Creating a yeast dough can be very time consuming, so make sure you have the allotted time to devote to this recipe and its steps.  Traditionally, to activate the yeast you need warm water, and according to most, sugar.  Sugar is said to feed the yeast while they bathe in the warm water.  Since I am not a fan of sugar, I wanted to be able to find an alternative way to activate the yeast without the use of sugar.  I figured since applesauce contains natural sugars, maybe I could add unsweetened applesauce to the warm, yeast bath and that could help activate them.

As with most of my recipe recreations I first wanted to replace the butter that is used in the dough. My usual go to butter replacement is unsweetened applesauce and I thought it would work very well within the king cake dough. Unsweetened applesauce gives most dough recipes a wonderful moisture level and just a touch of natural sweetness.

The next ingredient for me to replace was the whole milk. Unsweetened vanilla almond milk is an easy substitute for whole milk. I actually prefer the flavor almond milk brings to the dough. Furthermore, the nutritional value of almond milk is unmistakably better than cows milk.  If you prefer, coconut milk or soy milk can be used instead of almond milk.

If sugar is in a recipe I find pure Stevia extract can easily takes its place. If you are not a fan of pure Stevia extract I have listed alternative sugars that can be used in the recipe. Cane sugar and coconut sugar are far better options over highly processed table sugar.

The last ingredient in the dough for me to replace was the whole eggs. Eggs help bind ingredients together, much like a glue. Eggs also help to fluff up the ingredients while they are baking. The yolk of the egg is not needed to accomplish both of these tasks. It is actually the white part of the egg that preforms both of these tasks. Using just the egg white in the recipe instead of the whole egg dramatically cuts the calories, fat and cholesterol.

The inside, filling, part of the king cake is very similar to a traditional cinnamon roll.  The only real difference in the king cake filling is the addition of chopped pecans and raisins.  Traditional roll fillings are made by combining dry sugar and spices with melted butter to create a gooey liquid.  For my king cake, I wanted to replace the butter and sugar.  The butter has been once again replaced with unsweetened applesauce.  Since applesauce has a thicker consistency then melted butter, unsweetened vanilla almond milk is added to the applesauce to thin it out.

Traditional king cake filling uses brown sugar as the filling sugar of choice.  Brown sugar is basically white sugar combined with molasses.  While some have stated that brown sugar is better for you over regular white sugar, I still wanted my king cake to be low in sugar overall, so I wanted to replace the brown sugar ingredient.   Molasses gives brown sugar a distinct flavor and so I knew if I replaced it with just pure Stevia extract, it would lose that unmistakable molasses flavor.  Since molasses has a strong flavor, a little bit goes a long way.  I decided that I could use just a touch of regular molasses and combine it with pure Stevia extract to make a faux brown sugar.

The recipe below creates one king cake ring.  There are about 8 to 10 serves per ring (depending on serving size).  Traditionally king cake is served with a plastic baby hidden inside the cake.  This, of course, is an option step.  The signature king cake is typically covered with white royal icing and sprinkled with alternating Mardi Gras colors (green, purple and yellow).  This, again, is an option step.  I have included two royal icing recipes at the bottom of this recipe page should you wish to decorate your cooled king cake.

King Cake – Pastry Part

1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce

1 (.25 ounce) package of active dry yeast

half 2/3 cup warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees)

1/8 teaspoon pure Stevia extract (or 1/2 cup cane sugar or coconut sugar)

1 egg white

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

A dash of pure vanilla extract 

2 1/2 cups unbleaced all-purpose flour (or white whole wheat flour)

King Cake – Filling Part

1/4 teaspoon pure Stevia extract (or 1 cup cane sugar or coconut sugar)

1 teaspoon molasses

1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/3 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

4 tablespoons unsweetened vanilla almond milk

In a medium sized sauce pot, heat the almond milk just before a slight boil.  Remove the milk from the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of unsweetened applesauce. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of unsweetened applesauce. Let the yeast mixture sit until foamy and creamy (about 10 minutes).

After 10 minutes and while the yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Stir the egg whites into the milk, yeast mixture.  Add in the pure Stevia (or cane sugar), pure vanilla extract, salt and nutmeg.  Add 1 cup, at a time, of the flour into the liquid mixture and mix well.  When the dough has come together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl and turn it to coat with oil. Cover the bowel with plastic wrap and a warm damp cloth.  Allow the dough to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in volume.  This process will take about 2 hours. When the dough has risen, punch it down and once again turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium sized bowl, combine the pure Stevia extract (or sugar), molasses, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, unsweetened vanilla almond milk, unsweetened applesauce and raisins.  Mix the filling well and set aside.

Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a large rectangle. Pour the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll. Bring the two ends of each roll together to form an oval shaped ring. Place the ring on a prepared (parchment lined) cookie sheet. With a sharp knife, carefully cut slits 1/3 of the way through the ring at about 1 inch intervals around the ring. Cover the dough ring with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm area until it has doubled in size. This process will take about 45 minutes.

Bake the dough ring in preheated oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until slightly brown.  Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool.  Once the cake has cooled it can be frosted with one of the two frosting listed below.

King Cake – Frosting Part

For the king cake frosting, you have two options.  The first recipe is for a standard king cake icing, which is basically royal icing.  If you do not mind sugar than this recipe is good to use.  If you would like a healthier, sugar free option than the second recipe would be the way to go.  The king cake photographed in this recipe page was topped using option number 2 frosting.  

Frosting Option 1 – Royal Icing

1 cup confectioners’ sugar 

1 tablespoon water

In a medium sized bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well.  Pour the icing over the cooled kind cake and sprinkle with the Mardi Gras colors (green, yellow and purple).

Frosting Option 2 – Sugar Free (Greek Yogurt) Royal Icing

1/4 teaspoon pure Stevia extract

1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 tablespoons Greek Yogurt

2 to 4 tablespoons unsweetened vanilla almond milk

In a medium sized bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well.  Add more almond milk if needed to get to the right icing consistency.  Pour the icing over the cooled kind cake and sprinkle with the Mardi Gras colors (green, yellow and purple).

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