KING CAKE: Pistachio Sweet Bread Works For This Mardi Gras Favorite!

king-cake1-textMardi Gras is filled with a number of traditions. A yummy one is King Cake – a rolled cake decorated with purple, gold, and green. Often a plastic Baby Jesus or treat is hidden in the cake for some lucky person to be served.

This particular cake (actually, it’s technically a bread), Pistachio Sweet Bread, is a favorite of our family throughout the year. My husband loves it with a cup of coffee.

NOTE: Because I was decorating the cake for Mardi Gras, I used colored sugar. And because I’m a wee bit obsessive, I made my own homemade colored sugar with natural ingredients. Of course, this takes longer. I’ve put directions at the end of the post for those of you who choose to be chemical-free.

PISTACHIO SWEET BREAD

  • 2¼ tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
  • 1 cup milk (I use nonfat)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 T  +1/2 cup  + 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3½ – 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup salted pistachio nuts, chopped & toasted
  • egg wash: 1 T egg + 1 T water, beaten together

At least an hour before starting the bread, cut up 1/4 cup butter and leave out to soften. (You’ll be using another 1/4 cup butter later.)

In a small saucepan over low flame, heat the milk, 1 T sugar, and water to 100º – 104º Fahrenheit. Remove from heat and stir in yeast. Let proof for about 5 minutes.

Into the work bowl of your food processor, put 3½ cups flour, salt, 1/2 cup sugar, and the softened 1/4 cup butter. Turn on machine then slowly pour in the proofed milk mixture. Let run about 30 seconds before deciding if more flour is needed – the dough should begin to pull away from the sides but not form a clump. (I usually need to add about 2 T-ish.) Empty dough into a greased bowl, flip dough so both sides are greased, cover, and let rise 1½ hours.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board. Pat into a rectangle, then let rest about 5 minutes before rolling dough to finished size. (Letting the dough briefly rest decreases its elasticity.) Roll dough to 18″ x 12″. Brush on the 1/4 cup melted butter all the way to edge. Sprinkle on 1/3 cup sugar and pistachio nuts, patting them gently into dough. Roll up dough from long side, leaving seam on bottom of log. (Try not to let the ends taper, so the ring is uniform in size.) Bring ends together to form a ring. Using a little water on your fingers, pinch dough together.

Carefully transfer dough to a greased cookie sheet. (Don’t use a dark sheet – it browns the loaf too much.) Cover and let rise 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375º F. When oven is hot and dough has risen, slice about halfway through dough in 1½” increments (I use kitchen shears). Brush with egg wash and bake 30 minutes, rotating cookie sheet after 15 minutes for even browning. Top should be lightly browned. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Let cool completely if you plan on frosting. If not, let cool about 20 minutes and serve warm.

WHITE FROSTING – makes 1 cup

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2-4 T milk

Beat together the butter, salt, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Add in milk one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. If frosting becomes too loose, add more powdered sugar.

COLORED SUGAR

Orange

  • 1/2 cup mango cubes
  • about 2 inches of carrot sliced very thinly

Boil carrots in water, covered, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Purée mango and drained carrots in blender.

Purple

  • 1/2 cup blackberries or blueberries

Purée berries with a little water, until paste-like.

Green

  • 1/2 cup spinach (don’t worry – you won’t taste spinach in the frosting)

Boil spinach with a little water for 15 minutes. Drain and purée.

To Make The Colored Sugar:

Place about 1/4 cup sugar in 3 bowls. Add about 1 tsp (depending on preference) of colored pastes to each bowl. Mix with backside of spoon until color is well distributed. It will be very thick. To dry, spread each color on a plate and let air dry. After a couple of hours or so, mix to break up clumps. Keep doing this until it’s pretty dry. Then smash out crystals with a flat bottomed glass or measuring cup. Spread out on plate and let dry some more. Repeat until you get dried colored sugar. Drying time will be dependent on weather and how much coloring you use. But, it will eventually dry.

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