Meet the King of Cakes
Michelle’s vegan king cake
King Cake is a decadent, festive part of Mardi Gras in and around New Orleans. It’s actually a yeast bread, kind of like a giant Danish pastry or cinnamon roll. King Cake is usually filled with butter and brown sugar, cream cheese, or fruit mixes. Then it is braided, glazed, and sprinkled with bands of purple, green, and gold sugar. These three colors represent justice, faith, and power.
You’re only supposed to make king cakes between January 6 (The Epiphany) and Mardi Gras. King cake is named after the three kings (or wise men) who visited the Christ Child. A plastic baby is inserted into the cake after baking, to represent Baby Jesus. Whoever gets the baby in their piece is “king” or “queen” of the party and must bring the king cake next time.
No vegan should miss out on the fun, so I created a vegan king cake recipe that lives up to its name!
King cake before the glaze
To make the bread part, I tried veganized versions of Emeril’s king cake recipe, an allrecipes.com king cake recipe, and Southern Living’s “Most Traditional” king cake recipe. The first two were both equally good. Then I tried Southern Living, and…I had my own Epiphany right here at home! Goodness gracious is it tender, rich, and good. Aside from vegan substitutes for the egg and dairy ingredients, my recipe is different because it uses a stand mixer with a dough hook to make short work of the mixing and kneading. I also changed instructions here and there, added tips for people new to bread making, and have you braid the dough. If you’re new to shaping dough, don’t be afraid of braiding–it will look fabulous even if the braids aren’t perfect or some filling squashes out.
I experimented with both butter/brown sugar and cream cheese fillings, and I prefer the cream cheese. If you’d like to try a butter and brown sugar filling, the one from Southern Living’s “Most Traditional” king cake recipe is good. I just substituted Earth Balance for dairy butter. My cream cheese filling is a vegan version of the filling in Emeril’s king cake recipe, except I added vanilla. My glaze is also based on Emeril’s, but I reduced the lemon juice quite a bit and added vanilla.
Making Colored Sugar for Vegan King Cake
I was saddened to find that common artificial food dyes (like Yellow #5, etc.) are tested on animals. In addition to the animal cruelty, these food dyes may have side effects. They’re made from coal tar and petroleum. Yuck! So I made colored sugars from natural vegan ingredients. For green, I used liquid chlorophyll. This didn’t affect the taste–just don’t use the type of chlorophyll that has added mint flavor. For gold, I used orange juice concentrate. This did add some citrus flavor, but that’s ok–king cake glazes often have a citrus flair. Finally, I used Concord grape juice concentrate to make purple. The gold and purple sugars were damp, so I left them spread out to dry for the day. Before using, I crushed the sugars to crumble up the clumps.
For the Colored Sugar
- 3/4 cup organic sugar
- Liquid chlorophyll
- Orange juice concentrate
- Concord grape juice concentrate
For the Bread
- 8 oz. vegan sour cream (like Tofutti Better than Sour Cream)
- 2 Tbsp. and 2 tsp. organic sugar
- 2 Tbsp. vegan margarine (like Earth Balance)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 envelope (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water (between 100F and 110F)
- 1/2 Tbsp. organic sugar
- 1/2 tsp. The Vegg Vegan Egg Yolk
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (measured by lightly spooning into the measuring cup, then leveling off with a knife)
For the Filling
- 8 oz. vegan cream cheese (like Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese)
- 1/2 cup sifted organic powdered sugar (measured by lightly spooning into the measuring cup, then leveling off with a knife)
- 1/4 tsp. vanilla
For the Glaze
- 1 and 1/2 cups sifted organic powdered sugar (measured by lightly spooning into the measuring cup, then leveling off with a knife)
- 1 and 1/2 Tbsp. soymilk
- 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp. vanilla
- If you can, make the colored sugar the day before. Mix 1/4 cup sugar with about 2 tsp. liquid chlorophyll, until the mixture is emerald green. Set aside.
- Mix 1/4 cup sugar with a little orange juice concentrate. Repeat, until the mixture is a sunny yellow color. Set aside.
- Mix 1/4 cup sugar with a few drops of grape juice concentrate. Repeat, until the mixture is purple.
- Spread the colored sugars thinly on parchment paper and set aside to dry out. When ready to use, crush the sugars to crumble the clumps.
- Combine the first 4 bread ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat on low, stirring often, until the margarine is melted and the mixture is smooth. Take off the heat. Cool to 110F, and then start the next step.
- Use a fork to stir the yeast and 1/2 Tbsp. sugar into the warm water. Let it stand 5 minutes, until it becomes foamy. Set aside.
- Use a blender to mix the Vegg Vegan Egg Yolk with 2 Tbsp. water until smooth.
- Put the sour cream mixture, the yeast mixture, the Vegg Vegan Egg Yolk mixture, and 1 cup flour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
- Mix on low speed until mostly smooth. Then slowly add 2 cups of flour until the dough comes together.
- Keep the mixer on low until the dough becomes smooth. The stand mixer is kneading the dough, and this will take some minutes.
- Shape the dough into a ball and put it in a well-oiled mixing bowl. Turn it in the bowl until all sides of the dough are greased.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean towel. Put it in a warm place (like in your oven above a bowl of hot water) to rise until doubled in volume. To test if it's done, poke 2 of your fingers into the dough up to your second knuckle. Remove your fingers. If deep holes remain in the dough, it has risen enough.
- Punch down the dough by quickly but gently punching once into the center of the dough ball. Then fold each of the corners down into the well you just made.
- Shape the dough into a rectangle and put it on a very well-floured surface. Roll it out into the shape of a 12-inch by 22-inch rectangle.
- Cut the rectangle into 3 long strips. I use a pizza cutter.
- For the filling, combine the vegan cream cheese, 1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar, and 1/4 tsp. vanilla. Beat until smooth.
- Spread this cream cheese filling onto the 3 strips, leaving an inch on all sides.
- For the first strip, fold one of the long sides to the center. Then fold the other long side to the center. Seal the long seam by pinching it together. It'll look like a long, skinny cylinder. Then pinch to seal the ends. Repeat this for the other 2 strips.
- Place the ends of the 3 strips close to one another, and then braid the strips. It's just like a three string hair braid.
- Place a 15 ounce can (like of beans, tomatoes, etc.) on parchment paper in the middle of a baking sheet. Coil the braid around the can, to make a circular ring. Pinch the ends of the ring together.
- Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F.
- Remove the can from the center of the ring. Bake at 375F until golden, about 15-18 minutes.
- Meanwhile, for the glaze, combine 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar, soymilk, lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp. vanilla. Beat until smooth.
- Once the cake has cooled for 10 minutes, drizzle the glaze over the cake. Glaze one small band at a time, and then sprinkle the band with one of the sugar colors. Repeat until the entire cake is covered.
- Serve. Will keep for a couple days, but looks best if eaten within 24 hours.
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