It's time to start shakin and bakin...Mardi Gras is March 8, so there's still time to get in lots of slices of king cake. I suggest you try making one, if you're into really big, scrumptious art projects that go great with coffee. I also believe that a warm Sunday afternoon is the perfect time to try it.
I've made this RECIPE several times now, and I declare it pretty foolproof. The dough has wonderful flavor from the nutmeg and lemon zest added to it (plus a ton of butter). I'm not going to repost the whole recipe here, because I've never made any changes to it--I'm no tinkerer when it comes to baking. But I do have some hints about how to form and shape it without ending up covered in gloopy dough. Thanks to Paul for taking dozens of photos!
P.S. Get some Cafe du Monde or French Market coffee for this!
The recipe says to use a floured work surface, but that's never worked for me. Instead, cover a long counter space with a big ol' sheet of parchment paper. The dough needs to be spread out to 30" long, so mark off 30" on the paper as a guide.
After the dough has risen in the bowl for about 2 hours: Sprinkle a little flour over the dough to make it moveable (it'll be sticky), and dump it out on the parchment, keeping it in the top half of the parchment sheet.
Gently pat it out into a long schmear of dough, 30" long and 6" wide, always keeping it at the top edge of the parchment sheet.
When the dough's the right size, glop the cream cheese filling along the top half of it.
With your hands, smooth out the cream cheese until it's a pretty uniform log. This will be easy to do because the cream cheese is at room temp when you mix it with the sugar. Don't be settin' it in the fridge while you're getting the dough ready.
Lift the unused part of the parchment to roll the bottom half of the dough over the cream cheese. Do this in a quick motion, with all the confidence of your ancestral bakers.
See? Easy. Then pinch the new seam of dough together to seal it up.
Now make a big ring of dough by gently bringing the ends around to meet each other where you stand.
Smoosh the ends together so the cream cheese inside can be a continuous mass of filling. Pinch all the seams together.
With scissors, trim the extra parchment paper off the sides so the cake will fit your baking sheet with no paper hanging off the sides, causing it to catch fire and ruining your day.
Slip your baking sheet under the paper, and the shaping is complete. Transferring a shaped cake from a floured surface to a baking sheet is not a fun or easy thing to do, but if it's shaped on the paper, you'll never have to worry about that mess. So use the paper.
Now you're ready to cover with plastic and let it rise AGAIN, about an hour, before baking.
Here's a note on decorating: I've discovered that when it comes to sprinkles, less is definitely more. So go easy on em. I can never find purple sugar so I mix my own purple color and stir white sugar into it. On the food coloring box, there are 3 different "strengths" of purple to make. I use the formula for egg dye.
Seriously, if anyone ever finds any pre-made purple sugar crystals, buy them up and come sell them in New Orleans. You'll make a fortune.