In New Orleans, as well as in many other places with predominantly Catholic populations, there is no holiday like Carnival. (Aka Mardi Gras, aka Carnaval, depending on whether you’re in NOLA, Brazil, Venice, or elsewhere.) The day before the start of Lent is renowned for celebration, joy and downright debauchery. You know the beads, the costumes, and the parades, but no edible defines Mardi Gras season like King Cake.
In New Orleans, some consider it sacrilegious to eat King Cake prior to January 6th, when Twelfth Night is celebrated. (One author says the cake dates to Saturnalia, a celebration of Saturn held in ancient Rome.) For Louisiana-born chef and newly-minted cookbook author Vallery Lomas, the traditional green, gold and purple-bedazzled cake is a home state tradition worth continuing.
“Throw me somethin’, mister!” the Great American Baking Show star remembers yelling from atop her Dad’s shoulders, watching the New Orleans parades. She’d aim for beads but hope for the elusive hand-painted coconut. Parades were “a family affair,” she recalls, and she remembers sharing King Cakes with “everyone from classmates to church members.”
King Cakes remain ubiquitous in New Orleans, sold at bakeries, grocery stores and elsewhere. Vallery attests that— sacrilegious or not—people eat them “all the time,” not just during Carnival season. But these days, living in New York, she makes her own. (In fact, it earned her “Star Baker” the week she made it on TV!)
So embrace the tradition, and this gorgeous blueberry-strewn recipe. (Yes, the “plain” King Cake features classic cinnamon, but apples and strawberries with cream cheese are other very popular fillings!) Don’t forget the plastic baby, which you use a knife to insert into the baked bread after you make it. (Whoever gets it in their slice brings the King Cake next year!) And consider embracing the power (gold), faith (purple) and justice (green) embodied in the trio of colors in the sprinkles on top.
Vallery’s killer recipe comes from the pages of her new cookbook, Life Is What You Bake It. In it, she shares a recipe collection reflective of her Louisiana upbringing, along with family recipes and favorites from her time in Paris and her adopted hometown of Harlem. And, there’s more for your Mardi Gras menu there too, with Vallery’s take on Southern classics such as crawfish hand pies, biscuits and skillet cornbread!
Blackberry Lemon King Cake
For the bread:
- 1 cup (240ml) warm water
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- ⅓ cup (65g) granulated sugar
- 1 (¼-ounce/7g) package instant yeast
- 4 cups (500g) all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 5 tablespoons (70g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Grated zest from 3 lemons
- Softened butter or vegetable oil, for the bowl
For the filling:
- 2½ cups fresh blackberries
- ½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
- Zest and juice from 1 lemon
For the vanilla glaze
- 2 cups (240g) confectioners’ sugar
- 3 tablespoons (42g) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 to 4 tablespoons (45 to 60ml) whole milk or nondairy alternative
- ¼ cup each purple, green and yellow sugar
- Prepare the bread dough: Add the warm water and 2 of the eggs to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the sugar, yeast, flour, salt, the 5 tablespoons of butter, and lemon zest. Knead on low speed until the ingredients have come together, about 2 minutes.
- Increase the mixer speed to medium and knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic and the gluten develops, 8 to 10 more minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when a single ball forms on the dough hook and it thwacks the side of the bowl as the dough hook moves.
- Remove the bowl from the mixer and shape the dough into a ball. Transfer to a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic or a clean damp towel and let rise until it doubles in size, about 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours.
- Prepare the blackberry filling: Combine the blackberries, sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small or medium saucepan. Smash the blackberries and stir. Heat over medium, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer to a separate bowl, and allow to cool completely before using.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Divide the challah dough into 2 equal pieces and roll each piece into a rope that’s 18 inches long. Roll the ropes to rectangles that are 6 to 8 inches wide. Smear blackberry filling on the rectangles, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides, then roll tightly like a jelly roll. Twist the 2 rolls, then bring the ends together to form an oval ring on the prepared baking sheet.
- Cover with a clean dish towel until risen and doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl. Brush egg wash all over the loaf. Transfer the loaf to the oven and bake until browned, 30 to 35 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Make the vanilla glaze: Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl. Whisk in the butter, vanilla, and milk until smooth.
- Cover the cake with the vanilla glaze and sprinkle with purple, green, and yellow sugar before serving.
Adapted from Life Is What You Bake It. Copyright © 2021 by Vallery Lomas. Photographs copyright © 2021 by Linda Xiao. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.