A few weeks ago, I tasted my first galette de rois. A friend in the office where I work brought it in to share. He’s a new dad and brimming with that crackling, sleep-deprived enthusiasm of a first-time parent, clearly glowing with ecstasy over his baby daughter. He’s channeling that energy to involved cooking projects, something I did when I was a new mom, and it’s fun to experience it again vicariously.
For his galette de rois—the original French version of king cake, served to mark the beginning of Epiphany—he made puff pastry from scratch, filled it with homemade frangipane, and carefully marked its surface with a herringbone pattern in the traditional manner. It was stunning.
There’s more than one way to bake a king cake. I crack open a few tubes of crescent roll dough and whip up a quick cream cheese filling to make my shortcut version for Mardi Gras. Is it déclassé? Maybe, but it’s indisputably delicious.
Besides, my kid is 13 now, and my bursts of new mom energy long ago settled into a humming, steady undercurrent. If we want home-baked treats, we have to cut some corners.
My Easy King Cake Versus the New Orleans Version
In New Orleans today, iterations of king cake appear in all sorts of innovative forms: cupcakes, macarons, and even ice cream. The is a ring-shaped yeasted cake decked out in the festive trinity of Mardi Gras colors of yellow, green, and purple. Our longtime contributor Irvin Lin created the Simply Recipes house version, and he notes “gold represents power, green stands for faith, and purple is justice.”
I have never been to New Orleans (or Louisiana, for that matter). But I do appreciate how much folks get into the spirit of all over America. It’s fun to have an excuse to throw a party…or bake a cake. A traditional king cake takes at least a few hours from start to finish, but the shortcut king cake I make is ready in just one hour, with a lot less prep time and measuring. A kid could make it. Heck, my kid should make it.
Instead of making yeasted dough from scratch, I use crescent roll dough, which you don’t even have to thaw. Then I jazz it up with a cream cheese filling subtly flavored with lemon zest and cinnamon.
It’s Not A King Cake Without Colorful Decorations
Every king cake needs over-the-top decoration. I make a quick cream cheese icing, divide it in thirds, and add enough yellow, green, or purple food coloring to each to make the color saturation outrageous. But you could leave the icing plain white and stick to sprinkling it with colored sugars instead.
It’s customary to insert a plastic baby in a king cake, but I use a pecan instead. It won’t crack anyone’s fillings. I plan to bring mine in to share with my officemates this year. Whoever gets the pecan is king or queen for the day, plus they’re responsible for bringing the king cake the following year. Luckily, even non-bakers can pull off this version.