Do you have a hard time saying goodbye to Christmas? Why not celebrate Three Kings’ Day? Tradition has it that the Three Wise Men saw the star in the East and followed it to Baby Jesus. In many countries, the arrival of the kings is celebrated 12 days AFTER Christmas with gifts and parades and a Kings Cake.
This cake is made in the round and holds a secret bean, a plastic baby or a coin. The person who receives the slice with the surprise is said to have a lucky year ahead. While it’s called a cake, the recipe is made from a yeast dough, flavored with nutmeg and lemon. The green, purple and yellow sprinkles on top symbolize faith, justice and power.
I first remember eating Kings Cake in my high school French class. The lucky bean-finder brought a new cake the next day. We successfully ate cake for nearly 6 weeks until our teacher was afraid we’d have a rat infestation from all the food. Maybe we went a bit overboard, but I’ve never forgotten the fun of celebrating Three Kings’ Day!
Try this Kings Cake recipe and kick off your own carnival season on January 6th.
Traditional Kings Cake Recipe
1 cup milk, scalded or warmed to 105 degrees
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons yeast
4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup butter (2 sticks), melted
5 egg yolks, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons fresh nutmeg
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon fresh orange or lemon juice
Pour the warm milk into a large bowl or stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, mix the sugar and yeast into the milk until bubbly. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. Whisk in butter, eggs, vanilla and zest. Switch to a dough hook or fold in sifted dry ingredients of flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. If mixing by hand, knead dough for up to 15 minutes until smooth. In the stand mixer, blend on lower setting for 10 minutes until dough pulls aways from the sides of the bowl. Cover with a clean dish towel and allow to rise until double, approximately 90 minutes, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Punch down dough and divide into three even pieces. Roll into ropes, approximately the length of a baking sheet and as thick as a paper towel tube.
Pinch the ends together and loosely braid, tucking the bean or almond into the plait.
Lift and place on a greased baking sheet, forming a large circle by pinching the two ends together.
Allow to rest uncovered for another 30 minutes. A large pizza pan would work well too. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and set pan on wire rack to cool.
Prepare icing while cake cools.
Whisk together powdered sugar, milk and juice until a thick consistency. Move cake to serving plate. Drizzle icing on cake and immediately decorate with colored sprinkles. Store covered for up to 3 days.