Weekend Fix: King Cake Brunch

A technicolor treat for Mardi Gras-style brunching


Between the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras, New Orleans will have had a busy couple of weeks, and one notable blackout. But that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the lazy, rather than crazy, way with a little King Cake and chicory coffee brunch.  

First thing to know about King Cake: it’s not for diabetics. Or pre-diabetics. Seriously. If you have any kind of sensitivity to refined carbohydrates, or gluten for that matter, stay away from this one. Because the King Cake is nothing if not an unapologetic explosion of flour and confectioner’s sugar, topped with even more unapologetic explosions of green and purple decorating sugar. Yes, that’s sugar topped with sugar. It looks awesome, but it will punch your pancreas in the face. Still interested? Okay then.

Second thing to know: it’s got cake ancestry. The King Cake tradition comes from the Epiphany (those Three Kings of Orient) celebrated twelve days after Christmas. In France, this is typically marked with cake—either a gateau or galette de rois. The galette is actually a bit more austere in the scary French pastry sense: puff pastry filled with frangipane (almond pastry cream).  The gateau de rois is the truer ancestor of the New Orleans King Cake: a ring of brioche dough that’s braided, baked, and studded with candied fruit—in NOLA, replaced with aforementioned technicolor sugar-splosion. (Another reason it’s good to serve your King Cake with strong, dark coffee.)

Third thing to know: the magic item in all variety of King Cake is the figurine, either a fava bean or a plastic or porcelain baby—though this year the folks over at Cochon put a miniaturized plastic pig in their bacon-studded, peanut butter-and-banana-filled Elvis King Cake (see, variations abound). Whatever you stick into your cake, remember: if it’s plastic, it goes in after baking. Nothing like watching a beautifully enriched brioche dough rise and glisten, only to realize you’ve melted a tiny toxic figurine into it.

Oh, and it’s a tad dangerous. The figurine is meant to be found by eating. We don’t think anyone you brunch with will sue you (following the basic rule never brunch with the litigious), but a recent crown or current cavity might not take too well to ‘discovering’ a hard, tiny toy in food. So warn your guests about it. In fact, encourage them, with a side of warning: whoever finds the bean or baby becomes King or Queen for the day, though they’re also theoretically responsible for next year’s party. It’s not legally binding, which might make them feel better, especially if they’re bleeding from the mouth.

More than likely, your King Cake brunch will go over swimmingly. The cake always looks jazzy, and even for a brioche, it’s not very tricky to make—just let some yeast snack on warm milk, flour and sugar, add your melted butter, eggs and flour, and knead. Rising time rings in at 2 hours, and assembly time varies (however long it takes you to braid three pieces of dough, and most of us don’t have much practice there). But it bakes at a brisk 30 minutes, with 30 more to cool before icing, splashing with mardi gras colors, and loading with that bean or figurine. Then just turn up Professor Longhair, and, you guessed it, laissez les bon temps roulez.

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