Mardi Gras King Cake Cinnamon Rolls
Mardi Gras is coming; have you made plans for king cake yet? The dessert is as much a part of the carnival celebrations in the Big Easy as the parades, masks and, well, beads. In lieu of an actual cake, this year we’re making king cake cinnamon rolls a thing.
While you could slap some purple, green and yellow sprinkles on a tube of store-bought cinny rolls, this recipe is proof that they’re not at all difficult to make at home. The dough is fortified with eggs and butter for richness, and it relies on an Asian bread-making technique called tangzhong—basically a paste made from cooked flour and milk—to keep it fresh for days. You know what that means? Instead of donning your apron at dawn, you could make these babies the night before and they’ll taste just as good.
Psst: If you’re wondering about that ubiquitous plastic baby, well, it represents baby Jesus (it’s called king cake for the Three Kings of Christian tradition). If you end up with said baby in your slice, you’re buying next year’s cake. Lucky us!
5 tablespoons (71g) water
5 tablespoons (71g) whole milk
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (25g) bread flour
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (495g) bread flour
1 tablespoon (12g) instant yeast
2 teaspoons (6g) kosher salt
¾ cup (170g) whole milk, warmed slightly
2 large (100g) eggs
6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, as needed for greasing
¾ cup (142g) packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon (8g) ground cinnamon
One 8-ounce block (227g) cream cheese, softened
1 stick (113g) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (227g) confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon (14g) whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Generous pinch of kosher salt Green, purple and yellow sanding sugar or sprinkles, to garnish
1. Make the Tangzhong: In a small saucepan, whisk together the water, milk and flour until combined. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook the mixture, using a silicone spatula to stir constantly, until the tangzhong is thick and leaves a clean line on the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat to cool slightly.
2. Make the Dough: In a large bowl, add the flour, yeast, salt, milk, eggs, butter and tangzhong. Use a silicone spatula to mix until everything comes together into a dough ball; cover with plastic wrap or damp dish towel and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.
3. When the dough has rested, knead it until it becomes smooth, stretchy and slightly sticky, 8 to 10 minutes by hand or about 5 minutes in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.
4. Lightly grease the large bowl with vegetable oil and return the dough to the bowl; cover and set aside for 1 hour. The dough will puff up but not quite double in size.
5. Make the Filling: While the dough is rising, in a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
6. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. When the dough has risen, gently deflate it with your hands and divide the dough ball in half. On a clean surface, roll out one half of the dough into an 8-inch by 18-inch rectangle; sprinkle with half of the filling mixture. Beginning at one of the long edges, tightly roll up the dough into a log. Slice the log into 12 even rolls—we’ve found the easiest way to do this is to divide the log in half, divide each half in half again, then divide each of the four small logs into three even pieces. (Alternatively, use a ruler; each roll should measure about 1½ inches.) Repeat the process with the second dough ball.
7. Nestle the rolls into the prepared baking dish, then cover with a damp dish towel or plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.
8. After 45 minutes, the rolls should be puffy and crowding the pan. Transfer to the oven and bake until just lightly golden on top, 23 to 26 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes.
9. Make the Frosting: In a medium bowl with a hand mixer (or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), beat together the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, milk, vanilla extract and salt until the frosting is smooth and creamy. Spread it onto the cinnamon rolls while they’re still warm, then sprinkle all over with the sanding sugar. The rolls will keep, wrapped at room temperature, for up to 3 days.