Let’s Bake a "Mardi Gras King Cake" from a Box

The Mardi Gras season is here, it’s time to partake in King Cakes. And for those folks who live outside of south Louisiana, a King Cake is a rich, sweet yeast bread baked in an oval shape and decorated with the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. Often the pastry has a filling such as cream cheese, praline or fruit which makes this tasty bread even better. King Cakes are an integral part of Mardi Gras holiday merriment and they fill the bakery section of grocery shelves from early January to Mardi Gras Day (this year it is March 1). It is common practice to take one of these pastries to work to share with co-workers for a morning treat. Yum.

It’s Mardi Gras season. Let’s get in the spirit of this festive holiday season! I’m baking my own King Cake tis year from a mix.

I have noticed this particular brand of King Cake mix — Mam Papaul’s — on grocery store shelves for several years now. It is a compromise between purchasing a ready-to-eat King Cake, which is quite expensive this year — along with everything else — and baking one totally “from scratch.” And I was pleasantly surprised. This King Cake with praline filling tastes great. It has a slight sweet, almond flavor. In addition, the instructions were easy to follow, all the ingredients (except butter and an egg) were included in the box and the quantities of dough pastry mix were perfect. Compared to other yeast breads, this mix box didn’t take as long to prepare and bake! As you can see from this photo, my King Cake looks remarkedly like the one on the box cover! (Like it just jumped out of the box!)

About “Mam Papaul’s” Brand Mixes

There are countless brands of Louisiana-style mixes on grocery shelves. According to their website, Mam Papaul’s brand claims to be the first one to sell New Orleans-type entrée convenience mixes — beginning in 1972 — before Cajun cuisine was “famous.” The company was founded by Nancy Wilson who began making the mixes as “Cajun care packages.” She grew up in South Louisiana, learning cooking from her mother and grandmother — for whom she named her business. Her brand of mixes has survived and expanded. Eventually in 2010, she sold her company to Blend Mark, a private New Orleans area spice blend company.

In addition to gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee mixes, this company sells less common box mixes. These include bread pudding, beignet and praline mixes. Yum. I like to send Louisiana-style box mixes to relatives at Christmas time. My nephew in California received the Mam Papaul’s Gumbo Mix. He responded back that the gumbo tasted great. I might need to try out more of this brand of mixes myself!

Making the Mam Papaul’s King Cake Mix

Usually I include the recipe for the dish that I am making at the end of the blog post. In this case, the recipe is on the back of the “King Cake” box. To avoid any copyright problems, I’m going to show the process of making the King Cake but not post the recipe. It is easy to purchase the Mam Paul’s brand of mixes on the internet including “King Cake” mixes. My only concern is that there is not a “Best Used By Date” on the box. Since this mix includes yeast, you want to purchase a “new” box and then not store it in your cabinet for years. Use the mix while the yeast is still current.

This King Cake mix box includes everything you need to make the king cake (except butter, an egg, water and a tiny bit of oil). It truly is a convenience mix. I especially like the brightly colored sugar for decorating the cake. If you have ever tried to make your own colored sugar — it’s not really easy mix up. Plus, if you look closely, there’s a gallon-sized zip lock bag for mixing and kneading the dough. And the box includes a tiny baby. Hide the baby somewhere in (or underneath) the king cake. The person who gets the cake piece with the baby brings the next king cake to the group.

To make the dough, add the flour blend, yeast, melted butter and beaten egg to the gallon zip lock bag. Add warm water (110 degrees F). I use a thermometer. Without a thermometer, the water should be hot enough so that you can dip a finger in without saying “ouch.”

Mix and knead for 15 minutes until the warm dough is elastic and springy. The dough will pull away from the sides of the zip lock bag.

NOTE: You can also mix and knead the dough using an electric mixer with a dough hook or a food processor with a dough attachment. In this case, the directions state to knead the dough for 5 minutes.

Amazingly, there’s just the right amount of water to balance all the ingredients.

Use the palm of your hand to stretch and knead the dough. Occasionally open the top of the zip lock bag to expel air.

Then remove the dough from the zip lock bag and shape into a circle. Place in an oiled bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

I used my Instant Pot for this step by setting the temperature on the “Sous Vide” mode to 90 degrees F. and the timer to 30 minutes. I covered the Instant Pot with a damp towel, making it easy to check on the progress of the dough. At 90 degrees, this is the perfect temperature for yeast to grow and develop. Don’t worry if the Instant Pot bowl doesn’t feel ‘hot.” This would bake the dough. The Instant Pot will feel just a little “warm.” The dough doubles in size in about half the time compared to other places to “proof” the dough. (You can also use the “Yogurt” mode on an Instant Pot for this step)

Next, it is time to shape the King Cake. Place the dough on a floured pastry board. Use a rolling pin and your hand to very gently stretch the dough to 5″ x 30″.

Mix up the package of praline filling, by adding a small amount of melted butter to the filling package. Carefully sprinkle it down the center of the dough.

Roll the dough up into a jelly roll and pinch the long edges shut (but not the ends.)

Carefully transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet, with the pinched seam facing down. Shape into an oval, overlap and pinch the ends together. Now it needs to rise for an additional 30 minutes in a warm place, until doubled in size. Can’t use the Instant Pot for this step. I heated my oven to 150 degrees, then turned off the heat.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 – 25 minutes until brown on top and baked through. After baking, I rubbed a little butter on the top to soften the bread and remove excess flour.

Then add one tablespoon of water to the powdered sugar glaze and drizzle on top of the King Cake. Sprinkle on the colorful sugar crystals before the glaze sets. My King Cake is finished. For safety, I didn’t bake the baby in the bread, rather I’ll slip it underneath someone’s piece. Look carefully, the baby is sitting on top of the cake, so I remember to bring it along to my event.

This King Cake is delicious. It is not as sweet as many commercial King Cakes, but that is oaky with me. We have a month to bake and eat King Cakes until Mardi Grad Day arrives this year on Tuesday, March 1. There are lots of internet sites where you can purchase Mam Papaul’s King Cake mix such as Amazon. The Cajun Grocer and Mam Papaul’s internet site are two other sources.

If you don’t want to bake a King Cake, there are bakery sources where you can purchase ready-made King Cakes and have them shipped to you. This is quite pricey, however, compared to a boxed mix. (The least expensive route is to drive to a Baton Rouge local grocery store and purchase the box for $6.75. Of course, you have to live in Baton Rouge.)

I hope you enjoy a home baked King Cake this year. And, drink a cup of coffee with your cake. This is my surprising “food find” of this year.

I still have several King Cake box mixes remaining. For a modification, next I plan to roll out the dough to make it shorter and wider. I plan to add a cheese cheese filling with either canned cherry pie filling or apple pie filling. I bet these will taste great, too.

Let’s get in the Mardi Gras spirit!




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