How to explain a king cake to the uninitiated? Think of it as a giant cinnamon roll housing a tiny, plastic baby Jesus—stay with me—that’s twisted or braided into a circle, covered in icing, and liberally sprinkled with purple, green, and gold sugar.
This year, my second year away from the glittery hubbub, I decided it was time to make my own. I knew I wanted to stay in a traditional vein, but I wanted to experiment with putting cream cheese in the dough rather than as the filling.
As a nod to Galette des Rois (the traditional king cake of Northern France), I filled it with frangipane plus a dash of cocoa powder for a little oomph. And, because you can’t taste the cream cheese in the dough, I finished it with a cream cheese glaze. The result is rich and decadent, without smashing you over the head. —Kaitlin Bray
1 large twisted cake
For the dough:
1 1/2 teaspoons
(5 grams) active dry yeast
(100 grams) sugar plus 1/4 teaspoon, divided
(8 tablespoons) unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
In a small bowl, mix the yeast and 1/4 teaspoon sugar with 1/4 cup of warm (100° to 110° F) water.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cream cheese (the cream cheese won't fully melt, but that's okay). Remove from heat and add milk, egg yolks, vanilla, and yeast mixture.
In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine flour, sugar, and salt. Add wet ingredients all at once and mix for 5 minutes, until it forms a smooth, elastic ball.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and set aside to rise for 1 1/2 hours.
For the filling, glaze, and assembly:
While the dough rises, make the filling: Combine almond paste, butter, flour, confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, and egg and mix until smoothly combined.
Once dough has risen, punch it down and divide into 2 equal pieces. Roll one piece of dough to into a rectangle about 18t to 20 inches long and 6 to 8 inches wide.
Spread with half of the filling mixture and roll (cinnamon roll style) starting from the long end of the dough.
Repeat with the second piece of dough and the rest of the filling. You'll have two rolled ropes of dough. Press and roll each dough out another 2-inches or so to even the thickness of the strands and close the seams.
Line the ropes of dough up and, starting from the center, make a basic twist. Then bring the beginning and end of the twist together to seal into a circle.
Place a rack in the center of the oven and heat oven to 375° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the circular cake on top. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes while the oven preheats.
Brush cake lightly with egg wash made from beating the two remaining egg whites .Then bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until cake is golden brown (and the internal temperature is 190° F).
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before glazing. To make the glaze, beat together cream cheese, butter, confectioners' sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. in a medium bowl.
Spread glaze over the cooled cake. Sprinkle with purple, yellow, and green colored sugar. Hide baby.