Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Best Day of the Year: Whatever you call it, celebrate the last day before a potentially dessert-free Lent with a sweet, bedazzled king cake. For our recipe, we pair the cake's buttery, brioche-like dough with a cream cheese bananas Foster filling—because two classic New Orleans desserts are always better than one.
Tradition calls for tucking a small plastic baby (or bean, or toy pig) into the bottom of the cake. Whoever receives the piece with the baby gets to be "king" for the day and inherits the joyous task of buying the next year's cake. We're not one to buck tradition, but we swapped the slightly creepy doll for a mini liquor-filled chocolate bottle (of Jim Beam, no doubt) to match the celebratory mood. No matter the trinket you choose, make sure to sneak it in after baking, as a mouthful of melted plastic might deter from the sweet taste of king cake victory.
To learn more, read "Party Gras."
Bananas Foster King Cake
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: One 12-inch cake
Prep Time: 20 minutes, plus proofing time
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes, plus proofing time
For the Dough:
1 cup, plus 1 tablespoon, whole milk, divided
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons yeast
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, divided
4½ cups flour, plus more for rolling
Liquor-filled chocolate bottle, optional
For the Filling:
¾ cup dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons dark rum
½ teaspoon salt
3 bananas, peeled and thinly sliced
8 ounces cream cheese
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
For the Glaze and Finish:
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons light rum
2 cups confectioners' sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Green, gold and purple sanding sugars
1. Make the dough: In a small saucepan over low heat, warm 1 cup of the milk and the butter until the butter is melted and the mixture is warm to the touch. Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let it sit until foaming, 8 to 10 minutes.
2. With the mixer on medium speed, add the sugar, salt, vanilla and 3 of the eggs, and mix until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the flour and mix until just incorporated, 5 minutes. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until a dough ball forms, 4 to 6 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
3. While the dough is rising, make the filling: In a large skillet, heat the brown sugar and butter on medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves, 2 minutes. Add the cinnamon, rum and salt, and cook, stirring constantly, until the cinnamon is fragrant and the mixture has thickened, 2 minutes. Add the bananas to the skillet and gently toss to coat in the sauce, cooking for 2 minutes more. Transfer to a medium bowl and mix in the cream cheese and flour until smooth, breaking up the bananas as you mix. Let cool completely.
4. Preheat the oven to 350º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 piece into a 10-by-18-inch rectangle that's ¼ inch thick. Spread half of the banana mixture over the entire surface. Starting at one long end, roll the rectangle into a log. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Braid the two together and stretch the braid to 18 inches long. Connect the ends to form a 9-inch circle and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
5. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining tablespoon of milk with the remaining egg. Brush the top of the dough completely with the egg wash. Bake until golden brown, 40 minutes. Let cool completely, then insert a chocolate liquor bottle into the cake by making a small hole in the bottom.
6. Make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk the milk, rum, confectioners' sugar and vanilla until smooth. Pour the glaze over the cake and decorate with sanding sugars. Let the glaze set slightly for 10 minutes, then slice and serve.