1cup (250 milliliters)whole milkwarmed to 110°F (43°C)
4 1/4teaspoons (16 grams or 2 packets)active dry yeast
6-6 1/2cups (800-845 grams)bread flourseparated
1cup (226 grams)unsalted butterroom temperature (save the wrappers)
1/2 cup (115 grams) granulated sugarplus 1 tablespoon
1teaspoon (2 grams)ground cardamomoptional
1/2teaspoon (3 grams)kosher salt
1cup (240 grams), packedbrown sugar
1/2cup (113 grams)unsalted butterroom temperature
1tablespoon (6 grams)ground cinnamon
Cream Cheese Filling
8ounces (226 grams) cream cheeseroom temperature
1/4cup (60 grams)powdered sugarsifted
1teaspoonlemon zestfrom 1/2 a large lemon
3cups powdered sugarsifted
3tablespoons (62 grams)light corn syrupor honey
hot wateras needed to thin
colored sanding sugar
plastic baby or dried bean
Mix the Sponge
In a mixing bowl, combine the warm milk, yeast, 2 cups (about 260 grams) of the bread flour, and the tablespoon (12 grams) of sugar. Stir the sponge with a rubber spatula until it forms a thick paste. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or a piece of plastic wrap.
Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free area in the kitchen for 30 minutes. The sponge will begin fermenting and rising during this period.After 30 minutes, you can continue with the making of the bread or transfer the starter to a jar and refrigerate it for 24 hours*.
Make the Bread Dough
Add the remaining sugar and the butter to the bowl of your stand mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment) or to a large mixing bowl if you're using an electric hand mixer. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy on medium speed (#3 on a KitchenAid) or for 4 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and the paddle twice during the creaming process to ensure the mixture is creamed evenly.
Add all of the eggs to the bowl and blend them into the sugar-butter mixture for 4 minutes at low speed (#1 on a KitchenAid). Scrape down the paddle and bowl twice during this step.The mixture will resemble curdled cream at this point. Add all of the room temperature sponge to the bowl.
Blend the sponge into the egg-butter mixture on low speed (#1 on a KitchenAid) until the mixture looks smooth and thick, like pancake batter, or for 2 minutes.Scrape down the bowl and paddle, then switch to the dough hook. Add the ground cardamom, kosher salt, and 3 cups of the bread flour to the bowl. Or, if you're kneading by hand, place the 3 cups of flour onto a clean countertop and scrape the dough mixture into the center of the flour.
Knead the dough on second speed (or with your hands) for 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining cup to 1 1/2 cups of bread flour as needed. Humidity will determine if you use all, some, or more than the remaining quantity of flour. If the dough is super-sticky, you need to add more flour. If you are kneading the dough in the mixer, pay attention to how it is behaving at the bottom of the bowl. A dough that is too wet will cling to the bottom of the bowl instead of wrapping itself around the dough hook. If yours is doing that, add more flour. On the other hand, if the dough looks dry or really stiff, sprinkle a tablespoon of water in there to moisten it. It's better to add too little flour than to overdo it and try to bring it back, so be conservative. Knead the dough for a total of 10 minutes. When finished, the dough will feel supple, soft, and feel like it wants to stick to your hands but won't when you release it.
Allow the Dough to Rise
Once the dough is mixed, remove it from the bowl. Grease the bowl using the butter wrappers you saved earlier. Return the dough to the bowl and flip it over. This step oils the surface of the dough and helps prevent skin from forming on its surface.Cover the bowl with a clean towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free area of your kitchen for 1 hour.
Retard the Dough for Easier Handling (Optional)
After the dough has doubled in size, punch down the dough. To retard the dough (see details in post), cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place the bowl in the refrigerator. Chill the dough for 3 hours or overnight to make it firm, and therefore easier, to handle.
Prepare the Cinnamon-Sugar Filling (while the dough is rising or up to a week ahead)
In a small mixing bowl and using a hand mixer, beat the brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy or 3-4 minutes. If you're assembling the king cake right after it rises, just leave the cinnamon-sugar filling on the countertop. You can also cover the bowl and store the cinnamon-sugar mixture in the fridge for up to a week. It will need to come to room temperature before spreading.
Prepare the Cream Cheese Filling (up to a week ahead)
Add the cream cheese, sifted powdered sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla extract to a mixing bowl. Blend the ingredients together on med-low speed until smooth. The cream cheese filling will not be super-sweet, so add sugar to your preference. Keep the cream cheese filling on the countertop if you're assembling the king cake right away. If not, cover and refrigerate for a week. Remember to allow it time to soften before spreading.
Assemble the King Cake
If you have retarded your dough: allow it to warm to slightly colder than room temperature on the countertop. Taking the chill off of it will help it roll out easier. Use a knife or bench scraper to divide the dough into two equal pieces. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface. A rectangle that measures 26-inches by 16-inches is ideal.
Spread a thin layer of the cinnamon-sugar mixture onto the dough's surface, leaving a one-inch margin on one of the long sides.Loosely roll the dough, beginning on the covered side, towards the side that has the uncovered margin. Once the log is rolled, pinch the dough's edge to its body of it to seal it. Roll the log between your hands and the counter to stretch it out to about thirty inches. Now, roll the log so the seam is on the bottom and set it out of the way so you can roll the cream cheese log.
Roll out the second piece of dough to the same specs as the first. Spread the cream cheese filling evenly on top, but this time, leave a 1-inch margin on one long end and 1 1/2-inch margins on both of the short ends.Roll, pinch, and stretch the same way you did with the first roll. This one will feel softer. Pinch the ends of the cream cheese log to prevent the filling from oozing out.
Place the two dough logs perpendicular to one another on a silicone baking mat or a sheet of parchment paper. Pinch together the ends of the two rolls to join them. Carefully twist the two rolls of dough together until you get to the opposite ends. Form the twisted rope into a wreath and transfer the mat or paper it's on to a sheet pan, overlapping the ends.
Cover the wreath with a clean kitchen towel and allow it to rise for thirty minutes in a warm area of your kitchen. In the meantime, begin heating your oven to 350°F (177°C).
Make the Egg Wash
Whisk together the egg yolk and water in a small mixing bowl. After the dough has risen, brush egg wash where the ends meet and pinch them together to seal the ring. Brush the rest of the dough with the egg wash.
Bake the King Cake
If you see that the dough is beginning to tear, it means your logs were rolled too tightly. You can use a very sharp knife to cut open the top of the cinnamon logs, or just bake it as is. Bake the loaf for 30 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. You may have to rotate your pan halfway through baking to ensure it browns evenly.
Make the Vanilla Glaze (up to two days ahead)
In a mixing bowl, combine the powdered sugar, corn syrup (or honey), and vanilla extract. Add enough hot water to thin the glaze to your desired consistency.You can make the glaze a few days in advance and store it, covered, at room temperature.If your glaze thickens too much, nuke it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Give it a stir, and it should be fluid. If not, just stir in a few drops of hot water.
Finish the King Cake
Once the king cake is baked, remove the pan from the oven and allow the bread to cool completely.Spoon the glaze onto the surface of the king cake.
Decorate with a generous amount of colored sanding sugar or sprinkles.You can also tint the glaze the Mardi Gras colors with gel food color and decorate it that way!
Serve and enjoy your king cake!
*If you decide to chill the sponge, allow it to come to room temperature for 30 minutes before using it in the king cake dough. Double your filling of choice if you would only like to fill your King Cake with one filling instead of the two listed here. If you want to include a baby, nestle it into the baked and cooled the cake before glazing and decorating. You can just put it under the loaf somewhere, too.
Wrap leftover king cake tightly in plastic wrap or transfer it to a sealed food storage container.
Store at room temperature. Avoid storing the king cake in the fridge because the cold air will make it go stale faster.
King cake tastes best within 3 days of baking.
Reheat leftover slices in the microwave for 15 seconds to give them a just-baked flavor.
Freeze the king cake before frosting it.
Allow the cake to cool completely.
Wrap the cake in a double layer of plastic wrap, followed by a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
Freeze the cake for up to 2 months.
Thaw the frozen king cake at room temperature, before frosting and decorating as desired.