King Cake Paczki

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I have been lucky enough to live in two of America’s greatest cities: Chicago and New Orleans. When we lived in New Orleans, I was introduced to the holiday of Mardi Gras, the bacchic feast day before Ash Wednesday. Of course, New Orleans manages to stretch the holiday for about three weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, which means work gets a little lighter for a month while traffic congestion gets a lot heavier (roads close, parades roll, etc.).

Well, tomorrow is Mardi Gras! Full disclosure: I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Mardi Gras. One of my first experiences was getting punched in the face when a fight broke out in a group as I passed, and then I got hit in the head by a bag of beads (why do they even throw those!), not to mention my interaction with everyone’s elbows. I’m kind of shocked that I even considered going back again. But I did, every single year. One year, we lived about two blocks away from the parade route and that was the best. When I got tired of being elbowed in the eye sockets, I just went home. Or bought a corndog. That would usually get me through the rest of the parade.

But now, being far, far from the action, seeing all of my friends posting about the 610 Stompers they saw and the floats they rode and the shoes they caught at Muses, I get nostalgic. Chicago doesn’t celebrate Mardi Gras the same way that New Orleans does (few cities do). But both have their own beloved, pre-Lenten treats: King Cake and Paczki.

Both of these desserts were born from the same necessity: to use up fats and sugars in the house before Lent begins. But they are very different.

Paczki, (pronounced punch-key, or some drawn-out-vowel variation of that if you include an authentic Chicago accent) were brought by Polish immigrants to Chicago and several other cities in the United States, and are similar to jelly-filled yeast doughnuts. Paczki traditionalists would probably punch me in the arm for reducing their beloved dessert to those terms, but it’s true. King Cake, at least the kind that is gobbled up by the millions in New Orleans around Mardi Gras, is essentially a large cinnamon roll that’s been braided into a ring, also optionally filled with cream cheese or fruit jam, and covered with icing and sprinkles.

To bring together my two favorite cities, in a way sure to blaspheme both of them (sorry, everybody!!), I madeĀ  King Cake Paczki just in time for the holiday. This paczki dough is flavored with cinnamon before it is fried, filled with sweetened cream cheese, then topped with icing and sprinkled with colored sugar in the traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras colors: purple, yellow and green, which denote, respectively, justice, power, and faith.

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King Cake Paczki
Makes approximately 1 dozen. Slightly revised version of this paczki recipe from The Spruce.

King Cake Ingredients:
3/4 cup milk
1 packet (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
3 tbsp granulated sugar
2-2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp rum or brandy
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
oil, or lard (traditionally used), for frying
Purple, yellow, and green sugar

Cream Cheese Filling Ingredients:
8 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Icing Ingredients:
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cornstarch

King Cake Instructions:

In a measuring cup, mix the milk, dry yeast, and 1 tbsp of sugar. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon, and the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar.

In a separate, larger bowl, use a hand-mixer to beat together the unsalted butter and sugar until it becomes white and fluffy.

Add in the whole egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Beat just until the egg is completely mixed in and the mixture appears consistent.

Add a little of the yeast mixture and then a bit of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir until you no longer see white streaks of flour. Continue alternately adding the yeast mixture and flour mixture to the wet ingredients, stirring until you no longer see streaks of white flour between each addition. Once you have added and stirred all ingredients, the dough should begin to form a very loose ball. If it is still quite loose and wet, add in 1 tbsp of flour at a time until it just begins to form, but no more than a 1/4 cup of flour should be added. The dough will still be quite sticky.

Grease a very large bowl, pour the dough into the greased bowl, spray the top of the dough with cooking spray, or lightly brush with vegetable oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set the bowl in a warm spot to rise for about 1 hour.

After about an hour, when the dough has doubled in size, punch down the dough, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise again for about 45 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, pour the dough out and pat down until it’s consistently about 1/2-inch thick. Lightly flour the top of the dough and, using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut out rounds, placing them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. You may need to re-roll the dough and pat down again to get 12 rounds.

Cover the baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel and allow to set in a warm spot for about 1/2 an hour.

While the rounds are rising again, add two inches of oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Using a deep-fry thermometer, heat the oil to between 325 and 350 degrees.

Add two to three rounds to the hot oil at a time. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Flip the dough in the pan and allow to cook for another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the finished paczki to a paper-towel-lined plate.

While the paczki are cooling, make your filling and icing. For the filling, use a hand beater to mix together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. For the icing, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, salt, and cornstarch.

When the paczki have finished cooling, poke a hole into the side using a small, thin knife, without poking all the way through. Using a piping bag, fill each of the paczki with cream cheese. Drizzle the top with icing and sprinkle with colored sugars.

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Don’t be weirded out by these tiny plastic babies you see. Traditionally, plastic babies are baked into king cakes, and the person who gets the piece with the baby buys the next king cake.

The many breaks required in this recipe to let the dough rise are great for, say, drinking champagne, because you’ve got to make sure to get that out of your house along with all the fats and sugars. And because it’s Mardi Gras.

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Baked Yeast Doughnuts with Matcha Cream and Chocolate Ganache

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Happy Halloween! It is my most favorite of holidays. I can’t wait to see all of the little kiddos running up and down the block in their costumes. And it’s supposed to be a beautiful day, so they won’t have to deal with any jackets over their costumes, cramping their style.

Let me start by getting something off my chest. Look, it’s really great that the Cubs went to the World Series. It’s been a long time coming, and Chicago is all aflutter with baseball fever. My biggest problem with it is that I live about two blocks from Wrigley Field (for reasons I still can’t explain), and we were basically trapped inside our apartment on Saturday, when we were supposed to be at Weegee’s Lounge, rocking out Twin Peaks-style. We had our outfits all picked out: We were going to be Nadine and Big Ed Hurley from Twin Peaks. (It was perfect because Alex looks so much like Big Ed, and I really wanted to wear an eye patch.) But alas, it was instead Game 4 of the World Series and I had settle for watching on TV and, because of a slight delay, hearing the crowds cheer slightly before I could see what had happened. Bummer. But they’re still in it! Good job, Cubbies!

Let’s get back to the doughnuts, shall we?

Unless I’m far sneakier than I thought, you probably noticed that these are baked doughnuts. Not only that, they aren’t even baked cake doughnuts. They are yeast doughnuts, allowed to rise, then baked to soft, but chewy, perfection. What I was going for was “little clouds of heaven, filled with decadent cream and topped with silky ganache.” These are pretty close. Frying things in my home just totally bums me out. I have to watch the glug-glug-glug of the gallon (!!) of oil going into the pan. Frying at home to me is liking watching a hot dog be made: I want the end product, but for the love of God, don’t show me how it’s done. If you have to, you can fry these. Seriously, though, it’s such a pain and these are delicious, so why bother? Plus, you can do as I did and tell people that they’re good for them because they aren’t fried and you’ll only be kind of a bad friend for it.

I’m also baking, instead of frying, as part of King Arthur Flour’s #bakeforgood campaign. October is Bake For Good month. During October (you have one day left!), if you pledge to bake for others, you can receive a coupon for $0.75 off a 5 lb. bag of King Arthur Flour, plus King Arthur will donate the cost of one meal to Feeding America. Everyone wins! If you’re interested in making a last-minute pledge, you can learn more about that here.

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Baked Donuts with Matcha Cream and Chocolate Ganache

Doughnut Ingredients:
2 1/1 tsp active dry yeast (1 package)
1 cup whole milk
3 1/2 cups flour, plus more to roll out dough
1/4 cup sugar, plus a pinch
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, beaten
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Matcha Pastry Cream Ingredients (I followed this recipe from The Kitchn and added matcha):
1 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
1 tbsp matcha powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (chips or a chocolate bar)
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp of espresso powder (optional)

Instructions:
In a small bowl, mix the packet of yeast, warm water, and pinch of sugar together until frothy. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, additional sugar, and salt. In a separate medium bowl, combine the vanilla, eggs, and melted butter. Then add the yeast mixture to the large bowl of dry ingredients, then immediately add the wet mixture. Stir until just combined. The dough will be sticky.

On a well-floured surface, knead the dough for about 5 minutes. Then place in well-oiled bowl and cover with a clean towel. Allow the dough to rise for about two hours.

While dough is rising, make your pastry cream. Begin by combining one cup of milk, with 1/2 cup heavy cream. Heat until you just starts to steam. It should not be boiling.

While milk is heating, combine sugar, flour, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Mix well. Add in four egg yolks and mix until very well combined. Add matcha powder and thoroughly combine.

Set a large bowl with a strainer over it next to your cooking space.

When the milk is done heating. Slowly add a small amount of the milk to the egg mixture in the bowl. Whisk together thoroughly. Continue to add the remaining milk to the bowl, while whisking continuously. You can add the milk in small amounts and and incorporating the milk completely each time, if that’s easier. The mixture should look frothy at this point.

Add the mixture back into the sauce pan over medium heat. Stir continuously until the mixture begins to thicken. When the mixture is done, it will look thicker than pudding and large bubbles will appear at the surface, if you stop whisking for a few seconds.

Pour the mixture into the strainer over the bowl and whisk in the strainer until almost all of the mixture is into the bowl. The strainer will catch any clotted bits.

As the mixture is cooling, either whisking or using a hand mixer, whip the remaining heavy cream in a separate bowl, until peaks form.

When the pastry cream mixture is still warm, but not hot, fold in the whipped cream and stirring to combine thoroughly. If you notice any bits of egg or matcha as you’re stirring in whipped cream, strain the mixture once more.

Cover the mixture with plastic wrap, completely covering the top of the cream, with the plastic wrap directly touching the surface. Otherwise, the cream will develop a skin.

Refrigerate until needed. Remove from refrigerator approximately 10 minutes before using.

When your dough is done rising: On a well-floured surface, roll the dough out to about 1/2-inch in thickness. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut out about 12-18 doughnuts, re-rolling any unused dough scraps until it’s gone. Place on two parchment paper-covered, floured, baking sheet. Cover with a clean dishtowel and allow to rise for another 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place doughnuts in the oven for about 8-9 minutes. (Even when fully-cooked, the doughnuts will not brown the way that they would if they were fried.)

While the doughnuts are cooling. Heat the the heavy cream over a double boiler, or in the microwave, just until it begins to steam. Add chocolate, vanilla, and espresso powder. Stir until glossy. Set aside to cool slightly before using.

When the doughnuts have cooled to warm, use a chopstick or small steak knife to poke a hole in the side of the doughnut, turning slightly to create space within the doughnut. Be sure not to poke all the way through the other side.

Fill a plastic bag with a cake decorating tip in the corner through the corner of a plastic bag with matcha cream. Work the tip into the doughnut hole and begin filling with cream, slowly removing the bag as the cream fills the doughnut. Repeat for each doughnut.

Take each doughnut and swirl the top of the doughnut lightly over the surface of the ganache. Allow to set for a few minutes before eating. Repeat for each doughnut.

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Can we talk about how perfect these are for Halloween? With their dark ganache and green filling, I’ve been calling them my “witch donuts.” Speaking of Halloween, I’d like to give a very special happy birthday shout-out to my dear friend Kaitlyn, who is lucky enough to have a Halloween birthday! Way to be born, girl! You’re the best!

I hope you all have a spooky day! Seriously, get scared. See a ghost or something. It’s Halloween.

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