King cakes have become an obsession around Louisiana during Carnival season. In every grocery store and gas station you’ll find a dizzying variety from traditional tricolor versions to puff-pastry galettes des rois and everything in between. Over the past few years, bakers from around the state have challenged the perception of the king cake, and to great success.
About five years ago, 2014 Chef to Watch LisaMarie White unveiled a particularly decadent king cake at Domenica in New Orleans. Her resplendent take on the classic Mardi Gras dessert is a feast for the senses: a tender cake stuffed with pastry cream, topped with a praline glaze, salted caramel, and even flecks of edible gold leaf. During the season, Lisa and her team bake hundreds of them, which are available by-the-slice, or for order at her newest venture, Willa Jean Bakery.
We got Lisa to part with the recipe and give us some tips on how to make this stylish delight in the home kitchen.
LC: Tell us about your first memories of king cake.
LisaMarie: It was Mardi Gras 2010 and I heard about a king cake competition, so I thought I’d enter it. I entered two cakes, of course, because I couldn’t decide which I wanted to go with. One was super-local seasonal, right up my alley, and the other was more fitting the sugary expectation. And both of them were a hit.
LC: How did this cake come to be?
LisaMarie: I tried a few king cakes, and thought, ‘This is it? That’s all there is? I can do this. I want to do this.’ People are very traditional, and I was still learning that back then. I like that because where I’m from in California, there aren’t many traditions. I thought that even if I tried to go really traditional with the flavors, people wouldn’t like it because it wasn’t McKenzie’s and it’s not this or not that. So I embraced the opposite and went in a totally different direction.
LC: What tips would you have for the home cooks who will be making this?
LisaMarie: Slow down. It’s a long process, but if you break it up over a few days and make it piece by piece, it won’t be overwhelming. I’d probably start making the toppings first, because they’ll keep in the refrigerator for a few days. Once that’s out of the way, I’d make the dough, because once you start that, you can’t stop. Once the cake is made, you really want to eat the cake within one day, because of the fresh bananas. I have had people tell me that they freeze the whole cake and take slices off of it all season long.
LC: What tips do you have for working with gold leaf?
LisaMarie: Gold leaf is very delicate, like a thin beverage napkin. Open the booklet only halfway because the sheets can fly away, and there goes three dollars. I keep my thumb pressed on the other part, and I fold the paper lining back; take your clean, dry pairing knife and scratch some off, and place it right on the cake.
LC: There’s a lot going on in this cake, so let’s talk about the flavor profile.
LisaMarie: When I was coming up with this cake, I wanted it to be balanced, which is why it has some tartness from the cream cheese and mascarpone. There are nuts. When I create something, I want it to be a fun flavor package and have that bouncing around in your mouth. So even though it’s a king cake, I wanted it to be balanced and have all the fun things that a composed dessert would have. The saltiness and bitterness of the caramel counteracts the sweetness of the bananas and the praline glaze.
LC: How do you see this king cake? Is it a dessert? A breakfast food? An anytime treat?
LisaMarie: All of those things, really. It’s got the eggs, it’s got the flour, it’s got the cheese, it’s got caramel. It’s good for any time
LC: And what drink would you pair with this?
LisaMarie: A cup of ice cold whole milk. I’m a whole milk girl.
- 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
- 1½ teaspoons orange zest, divided
- 1 cup warm whole milk (about 95°)
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast
- 3¾ cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for kneading
- 1 cup butter, melted
- 5 large egg yolks, beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1¾ cups salted caramel sauce, divided
- 3 fresh bananas sliced diagonally
- Mascarpone Filling (recipe follows)
- ¾ cup toasted pecans
- Praline Glaze (recipe follows)
- 2 to 3 sheets edible gold leaf
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add brown sugar, butter, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon orange zest. Beat until combined, and set aside.
- In a large bowl, place warm milk; add sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of flour, and whisk until sugar and yeast are dissolved. Let stand until foamy. Whisk in the melted butter, eggs, vanilla, and remaining 1 teaspoon orange zest.
- In a separate large bowl, combine nutmeg, remaining flour, and remaining 3 teaspoons cinnamon; fold flour mixture into the milk mixture with a large rubber spatula. After the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, shape it into a large ball. Knead dough on a well-floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.
- Return dough to bowl, and cover with plastic wrap; set aside in a draft-free place until dough doubles in size, about 1 ½ hours.
- Punch dough down, and roll dough out to a ¼-inch thick rectangle (about 20x12-inches); lightly spread with reserved brown sugar mixture. Any remaining brown sugar mixture may be refrigerated and used for another purpose.
- Roll up long side of dough as tightly as possible, like a cinnamon roll, and pinch ends closed. Shape it into an oval shape, and tuck the ends under each other. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and spray lightly with cooking spray. Place dough on prepared baking sheet, and let rise until doubled in size, 30 to 45 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375°. Bake until cake is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool for about 30 minutes. Slice, allowing ⅓ of the cake for the top and ⅔ of the cake for the bottom. Spread 1 ½ cups salted caramel sauce on bottom half, from edge to edge.
- Top with banana, and drizzle with remaining ¼ cup salted caramel. Fill a resealable 1-quart plastic bag with Mascarpone Filling. Cut off a corner, and pipe it onto the salted caramel, and add pecans. Top with remaining cake, and press lightly.
- Place cake on a wire rack on top of a cookie sheet. Using a ladle, slowly pour Praline Glaze over cake. Using a paring knife, transfer the gold leaf in several pieces to the top of the cake.
- 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
- 1 (8 ounce) container mascarpone cheese, room temperature
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- ½ to 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add cream cheese; beat on medium speed until smooth. Scrape down the bowl, and add mascarpone, and mix until smooth. Scrape down sides once again. Add salt and sugar, and mix until combined. Add lemon juice to taste, and mix until combined. Refrigerate until stiff.
- ½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- ½ cup butter
- ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup praline liqueur
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar and butter. Cook until the sugar is melted and mixture is bubbly, but do not stir too much. Slowly add cream, and whisk until thoroughly combined. Be careful, mixture may splatter. Whisk in praline liqueur and molasses. When mixture is ready, it will have a velvet sheen. Keep warm until using.