I have to put a caveat here before we dive in: it’s not king cake season anymore. Here in South Louisiana, we’re big on celebration but also on tradition, so the season for king cakes is pretty strict. It begins on the Feast of the Epiphany (Twelfth Night) and ends on Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Depending on when Lent starts, this means a few weeks to close to two months of king cakes of flavors and culinary traditions of practically every kind. We’re now at the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent, which is one of fasting, not feasting.
So let’s go back in time a bit. When District Donuts Sliders Brew, a local artisan donut company, announced that their signature king cake flavor this season would be Cuccidati or Italian fig cookie, my jaw dropped, my heart skipped, and I got an idea. My heritage is in large part (and proudly) Sicilian-American, so we grew up making cuccidati. I saw their announcement as a personal challenge to see if I could imitate the flavor of a fig cookie in a king cake. And I must say, it was pretty darn indistinguishable from a fig cookie, except of course, it was a whole lot bigger (or as we say, there was more of it to love). I adapted a bunch of different recipes to make this happen, so check out the links below for the sources I used and adapted.
- 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 package (2 1/4 tsp) Quick Rise yeast
- 1 cup milk (120º to 130º)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, cut into 12 pieces
- 1 cup raisin medley (about 4 oz)
- 1 3/4 cups dried figs, stemmed (about 8 oz)*
- 1 cup orange juice (with pulp)
- 1 cup apple juice
- 2 tsp cinnamon
* I used Turkish dried figs from Trader Joe’s, which are especially wonderful because they’re already stemmed. If you’ve ever spent 2 hours de-stemming several pounds of dried figs, you know what a blessing this discovery was to me.
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons milk (plus more if needed)
- 1 tsp almond extract*
- Multicolored sprinkles
* If you’re making this recipe nut-free, use vanilla extract instead of almond.
- Bring raisins, figs, juices, and cinnamon to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until fruit has softened and only a few tablespoons of liquid remain, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely. While cooling, make dough.
- Once cool, transfer fix mixture to a food processor and puree until smooth.
- Mix 2 1/2 cups flour and yeast in a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, on low for about 30 seconds.
- Heat milk, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and milk is between 120º to 130º.
- With mixer on low, pour in liquids and mix until incorporated. Add eggs one at a time. Continue mixing until a shaggy dough forms. Clean off paddle and switch to dough hook. Mix in the remaining 1 cup flour a little at a time, adding more or less flour as needed to make a soft dough. Add the softened butter, a piece at a time, kneading until each piece of butter is absorbed.
- Knead for eight minutes on low. The dough should completely clear the sides of the bowl. If it is too sticky, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing in thoroughly before determining if more flour is needed. Every 2 minutes, stop the machine, scrape the dough off the hook, and then continue kneading.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times by hand to be sure it’s smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball. Place dough into a greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Roll the chilled dough into a 10 x 20 inch rectangle. Spread the filling on half of the long side of the dough. Fold the dough in half covering the filling. Pat dough down firmly so the dough will stick together. Cut dough into three long strips. Press the tops of the strips together and braid the strips. Press the ends together at the bottom. Gently stretch the braid so that it measures 20 inches again. Shape it into a circle/oval and press the edges together.
- Transfer the circle to a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350º. Bake until golden brown, 20-35 minutes (the length of time will depend on thickness).
- Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes on baking sheet and then place it on a cooling rack to cool completely before icing.
- Sift powdered sugar into a large bowl. Mix in 2 tablespoons of milk and almond extract and mix until smooth. Add more milk if the icing is too thick. It should be pourable but not too thin.
- When king cake is cooled, spread icing generously. Immediately decorate with multicolored sprinkles, so icing doesn’t harden as it hits the air.
Pro tip: Try not to eat the whole thing. That’s a for real suggestion.