This unorthodox king cake is based on a recipe for brioche, a yeast bread enriched with eggs and butter; it is sweetened with honey and flavored with vanilla, candied citrus peel, raisins and preserved ginger.
The dough is made in a two-stage process. It requires as a first preparation a “sponge,” a doughlike pre-ferment that makes the cake more flavorful and gives it a long, long life. You'll need a large (12-inch) tube pan. An edible prize -- a pecan half -- is used instead of a plastic baby.
The pearl sugar used to garnish the top of the cake (such as Lars Belgian Pearl Sugar, often called for in Belgian waffle recipes) is available at La Cuisine in Alexandria and can be ordered online through Amazon.
Make Ahead: The sponge needs 6 to 10 hours to develop, so it's best to make it the night before you plan to make the king cake.
Servings: 12 - 16
- For the sponge
- 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon flour, such as King Arthur unbleached
- 2/3 cup water
- 1/8 teaspoon instant dry active yeast
- For the cake
- 24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter
- 5 cups unbleached bread flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
- 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 large eggs
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup cold milk
- 1 cup cold water
- 1 cup cold sour cream
- 1 1/2 tablespoons instant dry active yeast
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 cups golden raisins
- 1 cup candied lemon or orange peel
- 3/4 cup candied ginger
- 1 pecan half
- About 1/4 cup pearl sugar (see headnote)
- For the egg wash
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 large egg
For the sponge: Stir together the flour, water and yeast in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 6 to 10 hours; or if your kitchen is warm (over 75 degrees), refrigerate the sponge after 2 hours and leave it in the refrigerator for 12 hours or longer. The sponge should be bubbly.
Once the sponge is ready, make the cake: Remove the butter from the refrigerator so it comes to a cool room temperature as you work. Combine the sponge, the flours, honey, eggs and egg yolks, vanilla extract, milk, water and sour cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. Beat on low speed to moisten and blend the ingredients. Turn off the motor; let the dough sit in the bowl for 20 minutes.
Turn the mixer to low speed and add the yeast, then the salt. Beat for 10 minutes. The mixer should be working hard, and the dough should come together in a ball that is pushed around the bowl.
Add the butter, which should be softened, and continue beating for about 3 minutes or until the dough is again a mass that stays together and is pushed around the bowl.
Add the raisins, candied citrus peel and candied ginger; beat just until they are spread evenly through the dough, perhaps 1 minute.
Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking oil spray; transfer the dough to that bowl.
At this point, you may, if you wish, put the dough into the refrigerator to rise. Doing so will allow you to shape and bake the dough at a later time. If you do want to do that, you must remove the dough from the refrigerator after an hour and fold it so that it chills evenly. And if you refrigerate it for several hours or overnight, you will have to allow extra time, as much as 2 hours, for the dough to soften so that it can be shaped.
If you are going to continue the process without refrigeration, cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 1 hour.
Lightly flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the surface and flatten slightly into a short rectangle. Fold the dough over itself into thirds, as you would fold a business letter. Turn it over, fold side down (it should look like a squarish ball), and return it to the bowl; cover and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
Use nonstick cooking oil spray to grease the inside of a 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom.
Transfer the dough to the lightly floured counter and form the dough into a ball as follows: Bring the edges of the dough into the middle and turn over the dough, somewhat rounded now, with the folded sides under the smooth side. Moisten your hands with water, then begin dragging the dough ball toward you, pressing the ball against the counter to tighten it.
Rub one of your elbows with flour and place the elbow in the center of the dough ball. Press down hard and make a hole in the middle of the dough. With your hands, make the hole larger, large enough to fit into a tube pan, keeping the ring of dough as even as possible.
Put the ring of dough into the greased tube pan. Cover, and allow it to rise until the top of the dough is loose and seems fragile. Depending on the kitchen temperature, this will take between 90 minutes and 3 hours.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
When the dough has proofed, that is to say when it is light and jiggly on the top, use clean kitchen scissors to make little cuts in the top of the cake (for decoration). Insert the pecan half (in lieu of a plastic baby) into the dough so it's hidden.
For the egg wash: Whisk together the egg and water; brush the top of the dough with the mixture. Be careful not to allow the egg wash to slip down the sides of the loaf, as that will bind the cake to the pan.
Sprinkle the top of the dough with the pearl sugar.
Put the pan into the oven; immediately reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Bake for 1 hour or until the cake is the color of dark honey and a tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then dislodge the cake from the sides of the pan. It will still be resting on the pan's removable bottom.
If the sides seem fragile and are not dark, carefully put the cake back into the oven, this time without the sides of the pan, on a baking sheet or a pizza stone. Bake for 10 minutes (at 375 degrees) until the sides become firm.
Let the king cake cool on a rack, then carefully run a sharp knife between the tube pan bottom and the cake to dislodge it; carefully do the same between the center tube and the cake. Remove the tube pan bottom; allow the cake to cool fully before serving.
From Washington baker Mark Furstenberg.
Tested by Mark Furstenberg .
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