Carnival, or Mardi Gras, in the south, is a serious and delightful season. It spans from twelfth night to “Fat Tuesday” which is the eve of Ash Wednesday when lent begins. It, in my humble opinion, may be the best way to avoid winter blues. Parties, and beads, and parades, and music can’t really equate to anything but a good ole time, right? Some people plan their whole year around it, and understandably so. The best part, of course, is the food…most importantly, King Cake!
In a mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, 1/3 c sugar, and salt. Measure milk and add yeast, setting aside to allow it to bloom. Add eggs one at a time to butter mixture. Next add vanilla and fruit zest and continue to mix well. Remove paddle and attach dough hook. Add flour and mix on low speed until combined. Once well combined turn speed to medium and continue until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and slightly climbs dough hook. Remove dough hook and pour roughly 2-3 T oil over dough flipping a couple of times to lightly coat dough ball. Cover with plastic and place in a warm place to rise until doubled in size (I usually place in oven with light on).
Once dough has doubled in size, turn out on a well floured surface, top with a bit more flour, and knead for 5+ minutes (no less than 4-5). Roll into about 12”x 16” rectangle, brush with remaining oil (no need to use all if less covers it well), sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture and slice into three equal portions length wise. Fold over and pinch together sides of each portion and then braid be careful not to pull dough as you go. Place on an oil and floured (or parchment lined) baking sheet, cover with a light towel and place aside again to rise approx 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Combine cream cheese and sugar well and then mix in egg. Set in cooler to firm up until cake is ready to bake.
Measure 1/2 c sugar in each bag along with 4-6 drops of respective color. Seal, shake, and massage until color is well combined with sugar. Some colors may require a few more drops than others. Just feel it out as you go.
Once cake has doubled in size, preheat oven to 375. Remove towel and gently add cream cheese topping to the top. Spread very lightly if needed being careful not to stretch or deflate dough. Bake 15-20 minutes until cake is golden and cream cheese has lost some of its shine.
Add half of milk and sour cream to sugar and gently stir until combined. Slowly add more milk if needed to achieve a thick and smooth consistency resembling toothpaste.
Once cake has cooled 10-15 minutes pour glaze evenly over top allowing to drip down sides and center. Top with sugars in three portions of each color around cake. Top with Mardi Gras beads or other themed accents and of course hide a baby or bean to determine who will be bringing the next cake!
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