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Cream Cheese King Cake

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King Cake with Cream Cheese Dough

Get in the Mardi Gras spirit with this homemade King Cake with Cream Cheese Dough.

The thought of making a king cake for Mardi Gras never entered my mind. Starting with my freshman year of college (just a few years ago, ahem), I’ve basically been a slave to the purple, green, and gold doughy rings, a cross between a cake and bread. As college freshmen in New Orleans, we would buy the cream cheese-filled versions and take them to the quad outside our dorm – whoever got the tiny plastic baby in their slice would buy the next cake. Which would be the next day. It was a lot of king cake.

Since then, I’ve ordered and shipped the real deals to Houston from New Orleans bakeries like Randazzo’s and Gambino’s. A couple of years ago, one (maybe two) of those cakes (plus maybe a few vodka tonics) even sent me straight into a Lenten Whole 30 (and I’m Jewish). But this year…no king cake orders! All the bakeries sold out months ahead of Mardi Gras. Which left me wondering: Could I make a king cake that rivaled the ones in NOLA? Food52 published a recipe from Kaitlin Bray for King Cake with Cream Cheese Dough. I was skeptical. Would this be a major project? Would it even be worth it?

Answer: Yes. Oh yes. I could make a king cake that rivaled NOLA’s. It wasn’t a major project. And it was totally worth it. The only change I made to Kaitlin’s recipe was to add some cream cheese to the almond paste filling. I am not kidding when I tell you two people told me this was the best king cake they’d ever had. Plus my daughter’s Louisianian boyfriend, upon tasting the cake, texted her, God bless your mother. 

I’ll take that. Go make this king cake. Happy Mardi Gras!

King Cake with Cream Cheese Dough
Slightly adapted from Food52 and Kaitlin Bray

For the dough:
1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup plus ¼ teaspoon sugar, divided
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 large egg yolks (save the whites for the egg wash)
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling and icing:
7 ounces almond paste
8 ounces cream cheese, divided
1 large egg
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature, divided
1 ½ cups powdered sugar, divided
¼ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Purple, green, and gold colored sugars
Plastic baby

Make the dough. In a small bowl, mix the yeast, ½ teaspoon sugar, and ¼ cup warm water. (Water should be about 100 degrees; if it’s too hot you’ll kill the yeast and the dough won’t rise.)

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 the heat and slowly whisk in the egg yolks, milk, vanilla, and yeast mixture. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, salt, and remaining ½ cup of sugar. Add the egg yolk mixture all at once and mix on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until a smooth, elastic ball forms. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it rise for 1 ½ hours.

Make the filling. In a medium bowl, mix the almond paste, 4 ounces of the cream cheese, egg, flour, 4 tablespoons of the butter, and ½ cup of the powdered sugar until combined. (I found it easiest to mix the almond paste and cream cheese together first with my clean hands.) 

When the dough has risen, punch it down and divide it into two equal pieces. Roll one piece of the dough into a rectangle 18 to 20 inches long and 6 to 8 inches wide. Spread the dough with half of the filling and roll up, starting with the long end of the dough. Repeat with the second piece of dough and the remaining filling. You’ll have two rolled ropes of dough. Pinch the seams of each rope together to close them.

Line the dough ropes up and, starting from the center, make a basic twist until all the dough is twisted. Bring the beginning and end of the twist together to seal into a circle. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the cake on top. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let the cake rest for 30 minutes.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375 degrees. Brush the cake lightly with an egg wash made from beating the egg whites with a fork. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown. Let cool completely.

Make the icing. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, beat 4 ounces of the cream cheese, milk, vanilla, remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, and 1 cup of powdered sugar until well combined and smooth. Spread the icing over the cooled cake. Sprinkle with purple, green, and gold sugars. Tuck the baby inside the cake, pushing it in from the bottom of the cake.

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