Last week, Chocolate + Marrow turned two. Which means it’s been two whole years since I signed up for a WordPress account and hit “publish” on my very first post—a Tom Kha Gai that is still a favorite in this household.
You want to know the truth? The absolute, no fluff, probably-too-honest-but-I-don’t-give-a-damn truth?
I knew nothing.
I didn’t know how to build a website much less how to direct people to it. I was only familiar with about two food bloggers out of the expansive world of like hundreds of thousands of them. I barely knew anything about my little camera other than how to turn it on. And I was woefully ignorant about what blogging, as either a hobby or a profession, actually looked like. I didn’t even use Instagram — the holy grail of digital spaces for food bloggers — until I was a full six or seven months into blogging and even then it was only because a friend made me, saying, “You’re a food blogger. You have to do Instagram. It’s basically mandatory.” I know, I know. If your friend tells you to jump off of a bridge, are you just going to do it? Yes, probably. Because, sometimes, I’m a total pushover.
Two years and one over-active Instagram account later, and here we are.
I’ve met some extraordinary people from behind the 13-inch screen of my laptop in those short two years, bloggers and non-bloggers alike. I’ve learned how to use a camera and build a website (kind of) and my caramel-making skills have improved dramatically. I’ve found my voice in a way I never knew I could and have learned to coexist with imperfection. To be comfortable with it, even. And I’ve realized how much food and cooking and writing and photography are all pieces of my soul. Pieces that need nurturing, time, and devotion, sometimes specifically for sharing here; other times intentionally divorced from sharing, made only for my own eyes and taste buds.
I really have you to thank for all of that. I’m not sure I would’ve continued on at certain points if it weren’t for all of you. Sometimes I’m not sure readers realize this little thing. Your feedback, engagement, support…it may not be necessary. But it matters. Your comments and emails have made me smile all the way up to the creases in the corner of my eyes before. They’ve made me spit out my coffee in laughter (see pumpkin scones.) At times, they’ve even dredged up fat tear drops that prick at the corners of my eyes (see pina colada ice cream…so many hugs, y’all.)
Above all, they’ve reminded me how intensely connected we all are. Sometimes by the food, but more often by other elements of our shared humanity like loss and friendship and growing up. Gosh, I’m grateful to you for that. Thank you, all of you.
Now, to celebrate this blogiversary (and also the birthday of mine that’s happening tomorrow!), and since Mardi Gras is right around the corner, I’m sharing with you a king cake that I say with full confidence tops all the other ones in my little king cake arsenal. It may have taken half a dozen tries, and I’m not sure I’ve ever dropped more f-bombs as I did when I was recipe testing for this colorful sugar-crowned cake, but it was well worth it. Because this is the best king cake/birthday cake/blogiversary cake I’ve ever eaten in my whole nearly-29 years on this planet.
Its buttery, egg-rich dough is adapted from Cynthia’s gooey cinnamon roll recipe. And after several failed attempts at creating just the right fluffy, pillowy dough, I’m forever grateful to her for sharing that recipe—it really is a perfect base for a soft, buttery king cake with a dense crumb and I know I’ll return to this dough again and again each carnival season.
After a long overnight rest in the refrigerator, the dough is rolled out into two sheets – each smeared with the traditional cinnamon sugar filling as well as a thick line of Michelle’s salted caramel sauce (which, by the way, I could easily eat by the spoonful) – before being rolled up into two logs and twisted together to form the classic king cake oval. Even though the salted caramel adds a layer of difficulty to the cake and could easily be left out if you wanted to simplify, I love its toasty nutty flavor paired with the soft buttery dough and the cinnamon sugar. It’s decadent and playful and makes the cake really feel like something fit for celebration, which is exactly what Mardi Gras and birthdays and blogiversaries are all about.
For more king cake recipe inspiration, see:
One year ago: Cardamom-Almond King Cake
Two years ago: Cream Cheese Filled King Cake
- 1 cup of granulated sugar
- Food coloring (purple, yellow, and green)
- 1⅓ cups of granulated sugar
- ¾ cups of heavy cream
- ⅛ cup of light corn syrup
- 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon portions
- 2-1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt, or 1 teaspoon of regular table or sea salt
- 2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons of warm water
- 4 cups of all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup of sugar
- 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, or 1 teaspoon of regular table or sea salt
- 1 cup of buttermilk
- 4 large eggs, 2 whole and 2 divided into whites and yolks
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
- 6 tablespoons of butter, softened
- ¼ cup of dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- ½ cup of salted caramel sauce (see above)
- 2 cups of powdered sugar, sifted
- ¼-1/2 cup of milk or half-and-half
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
- Separate the sugar into 3 equal parts into 3 separate small Tupperware containers with lids. Drop 5-10 drops of food coloring into each container – one for purple, one for green, one for yellow. Shake vigorously until all of the wet drops of food coloring have incorporated into the sugar. Add more coloring as you see fit, until the sugars reach your desired colors. I used between 10-15 drops per color. Let rest (with top off.)
- Add sugar to a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan and heat over medium heat. While sugar is heating, add cream and corn syrup to a small sauce pan and heat over low heat. Do not let the cream come to a boil, keep it just hot enough so that it doesn’t bubble.
- As the sugar begins to melt, you’ll notice it turn a golden color on the edges and bottom. Gently swirl the pan around without stirring. Continue heating through, swirling occasionally, until all of the sugar has melted and turned a deep amber color. If you notice it begin to smoke, turn the heat down. I kept mine at medium pretty consistently and it took about 7-10 minutes before the whole lot of it was melted, amber-colored, and fragrant.
- Once the sugar is melted and amber, remove from the heat and add the cream mixture. It will bubble furiously. Don’t worry, that’s supposed to happen. Let it settle, about 1 minute, and then stir to combine the cream and sugar. Add butter and salt and stir again to combine, about 30 seconds.
- Set aside ½ cup for the king cake and store the rest in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. When you’re ready to use, either spoon it out of the jar, or reheat it gently in the microwave to make it less viscous.
- Add the yeast to a small bowl along with 2 tablespoons of lukewarm water to activate. Let rest for about 10 minutes, or until you notice it begin to bubble and foam. If it doesn’t begin to foam, your yeast may be old, in which case you should get some new yeast before proceeding.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the buttermilk, 2 whole eggs, 2 of the egg yolks (setting aside the egg whites in a small Tupperware container to brush the braided dough with), the vanilla extract, melted butter, and the activated yeast. Mix on low to combine. Switch to the dough hook, scraping any stuck on ingredients from the paddle into the dough bowl, and add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Knead on medium speed (level 4) for about 5 minutes, or until there is a soft, smooth elastic dough. You may need to scrape down the sides a bit as it kneads. If you’re kneading by hand, firstly, kudos. This is a wet dough and thus fairly difficult to work with by hand. However, if you’re kneading by hand, use a wooden spoon to turn the dough and scrape off your hands as necessary. Once dough is smooth, transfer to a large bowl (I found it best to use a wooden spoon to scrape the wet dough into a single mass in the bowl), cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and refrigerate overnight. This will not only help the dough develop, it will also chill the dough thus making it much easier to work with.
- The next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a well-floured surface, adding some flour to your rolling pin if you’re still finding it too sticky to work with. Roll it into a rectangle of about 12 x 24 inches and about ¼-inch thick. Slice vertically into 2 equal strips, each about 6 inches wide and 24 inches long. (To make it easier, use one single log. See notes.)
- Cream together the butter, dark brown sugar, and ground cinnamon to make the cinnamon-butter filling.
- Spoon half of the cinnamon-butter filling in a line down one side of the first long strip of dough, stopping about 1 inch from the edges and then top with ¼-cup of the caramel sauce. Repeat with the other half of dough. Roll each into a log, cinnamon roll style, pressing to seal around the ends so that the cinnamon-butter and caramel sauce stay inside.
- Twist the two logs together as if you were twisting two ropes. Do this slowly and carefully as the dough is delicate (and filled). Stretch the twist and form into a circle or oval, pressing the two ends together, one underneath the other. If you notice any areas where the dough has stretched too thin and is at risk of overflowing, try to pinch them closed so that the filling doesn’t overflow while baking. Place on a greased baking sheet and let rest at room temperature for about 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Brush cake with leftover 2 egg whites (optional). Bake cake until it is cooked through and golden, about 30 minutes.
- While cake is baking, whisk together the sugar, milk, and vanilla extract for the icing. I've made my icing fairly thin here since the cake is already very sweet and I really only needed it to help bind the granulated colored sugar to the cake. But, if you prefer it thicker, just add more powdered sugar.
- Allow to cool and then drizzle with icing and colored sugars.
The salted caramel recipe was adapted from Michelle and is insanely perfect. I’ve used it for topping fruit, ice cream, and have occasionally been guilty of spooning it right from the container! Remaining caramel sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
The Brioche king cake is adapted from Cynthia’s epic, gooey cinnamon rolls. It is the most perfect dough I’ve ever found for king cakes and one I’ll return to again and again.
I strongly recommend using a stand mixer for this recipe as this is a fairly wet dough, and thus somewhat difficult to work with by hand.