Mardi Gras King’s Bundt Cakes
Recipe and photo by Tami Ganeles Weiser
mini bundt cakes
Prep Time: 1 hour Rising Time: 3 hours Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Circular stuffed yeast cakes, like a king’s cake, are an integral part of European culinary history dating back to Medieval times. In New Orleans, however, the cake has its own tale to tell. Stuffed with the famed pecans of southern Louisiana and plenty of brown sugar, it is traditionally baked for the Catholic Epiphany shortly after Christmas, and has a tiny plastic baby doll baked inside. As a Jewish born and bred New Orleanian, my mother wasn’t offered this cake—nor was anyone in her family—but its vibrant colors—the colors of Mardi Gras—still bring a smile for the fun that was Mardi Gras and the colorful parades and parties that rocked New Orleans every February. I have designed these mini bundt cakes with a specific purpose. Without the toy inside, something else interesting needed to happen. So came some research on a queen’s sauce that is served with the king’s cake. It is a sweet, white, almost–royal icing-like sauce. Hmmm. The mini bundt pans have small center posts, so when baked, these cakes close at the top (which becomes the bottom when you remove them from the pans; you bake bundts upside down). When coating these cakes with the thick sauce, fill the cavity created by the bundt pan and magic will happen. When make the first cut into the center, the filling gently flows, like sweet white lava. Ummmmmm. Sauce inside the cake? Pecans? Colorful sprinkles? This cake is a fun play on the classic, so let “les bon temps roulez.”
King’s Bundt Cakes:
½ cup warm water, between 80°F and 100°F (see Kitchen Tips)
2 packets (½ ounces/14 grams/ about 4½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 cup (204 grams) plus ¼ teaspoon granulated sugar, divided
4 egg yolks
1 cup milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons lime zest (from about 6 limes, see Kitchen Tips)
5½ cups (715 grams) unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 stick (½ cup/114 grams/4 ounces/8 tablespoons) unsalted European or cultured butter, room temperature
3 cups (12 ounces) whole pecans
½ cup (108 grams) dark brown sugar
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon, roasted preferred
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
2 tablespoons powdered egg whites
4 cups (496 grams) confectioners’ sugar
2 to 5 tablespoons water (or fresh lime juice, see Kitchen Tips)
Yellow, green and purple sugar
- Make the cake: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the warm water, yeast, and ¼ teaspoon of the sugar and mix to combine. Let stand for 5 to 7 minutes, until foamy.
- Add the egg yolks, milk, salt, and zest and mix at low to medium-low speed until well combined. Add the flour and mix for 1 to 2 minutes at low to medium-low speed until combined. Do not overmix. Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing after each addition, until each is fully combined, for a total of 2½ to 3 minutes, making sure not to overmix. This dough is soft, and tacky, but not sticky; nor will it clean the sides of the bowl well.
- Scrape the mixture into another bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 1 hour. It will not double in volume.
- Meanwhile, make the filling: preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the pecans on it in a single layer and bake for 5 to 6 minutes, until toasted; watch carefully to make sure they do not burn.
- Transfer the pecans to a food processor fitted with a metal blade, add the brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, and salt and pulse until combined and chopped, but not puréed. Add the egg and vanilla bean paste and pulse until combined. Transfer the mixture to a bowl or other container, cover, and refrigerate until ready to bake.
- When the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 350°F. Dust a work surface, a rolling pin and your hands with flour. Scoop the dough onto the work surface. Cut it in quarters and wrap 3 of the 4 resulting portions in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Cut the remaining portion in quarters (each piece will weigh about 90 grams) and roll out each of the resulting 4 pieces into a rectangle that measures about 7 to 8 inches long by 3 inches wide, with a thickness of about 1/16 of an inch. Spoon a line of filling lengthwise down the center of each rectangle, using about 3 tablespoons of the filling in each. Fold one of the long edges of dough up and over the filling to create a tube filled from end to end; press or pinch the ends together neatly to form a filled ring. Tuck the filled cake, seam side up, into the individual (4-inch in diameter) bundt pans. The cake should come about halfway up the side of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until it comes two-thirds of the way up the side of the pan. While the dough is rising, repeat the process with all of the dough and filling, working in batches of 4 pieces of dough at a time (there will be a total of 16 cakes). By the time you finish rolling and filling the next batch of 4 and putting it in the pans, the first batch should be ready to bake (about 20 to 30 minutes). Each batch needs to have risen to fill the bundt pans about two-thirds full to be ready to bake. (That rise is the best indicator, not the time on a clock).
- Place the risen cakes, still in their pans, on a rimmed baking sheet and bake each batch of 4 for 18 to 19 minutes, until the crusts are a warm golden color and they sound hollow when tapped with your knuckle. Place the next batch of risen cakes on another baking sheet and bake as above. Continue with all the risen cakes until you have baked all of them. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for about 5 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack before icing.
- While the cakes are baking, make the royal icing: In a bowl, mix together the egg white powder, sugar, and enough water to make a thick, syrupy mixture with the texture of school glue. You’ll have 2 to 6 tablespoons.
- Decorate the cakes: When the cakes have cooled, drizzle about 1 tablespoon of the icing over the over the ridges of each bundt cake, gently moving your “spooning hand” around the top of the cake slowly and allowing the icing to drip down the ridges inside and out. Repeat to coat the cake and fill the indention in the center (from the bundt pan’s small tube). While the icing is still wet, sprinkle a little of each of the 3 colored sugars over the cake to make 3 stripes, each about 1 to 1½ inches wide. Repeat until all of the cakes are iced and decorated.
- If you are lime lover, you can use up to 6 tablespoons of lime zest in the dough, which would require about 9 limes. You can use lime juice in lieu of the water when making the royal icing as well (it will not make it green; don’t worry).