COVID-19 has pretty much ruined everything; this we already know. But some traditions remain intact, and that includes the delicious tradition of King Cake.
Traditionally served in the month of January, bakeries around Louisiana are pumping out the traditional pastry to offer a sweet bite of better times. In my own backyard of Dallas, PJ’s, a New Orleans-based coffee shop hopping across the Texas-Lousiana border, is offering an exciting new twist on the foodie favorite: King Cake Lattes. Per Eater Dallas, the limited-time drink includes “PJ’s espresso dolce roast, steamed milk with vanilla and cinnamon, and tipped with a generous dollop of whipped cream dusted in purple sugar.”
Frankly, everyone here at Sprudge is obsessed. Much like Hamentashen, the King Cake is one of those sweet treats that comes but once a year, whose arrival is hungrily awaited. Find a way to add coffee to it—or it to coffee—and you've really got our attention.
But we understand not everyone can pop out to their nearest cafe for a King Cake Latte. So if you can’t get to a PJ’s, or want to make your very own version, Sprudge co-founder and noted King Cake enthusiast Jordan Michelman has whipped us up a play-at-home recipe.
King Cake Latte Topping
First let me state for the record that King Cake is literally the best. There is no better sweet treat. Gambinos, Haydels, Dong Phuong, Sucre, Ambrosia Bakery—you cannot go wrong with any of these, and nearly all of them ship.
Traditional Louisiana-style King Cake calls for a very simple icing, what's sometimes called “English icing” made of powdered sugar, milk, and lemon. As with all things King Cake there is endless variation and riffing—there is even an un-iced purist version, made using puff pastry and almond filling (they make an excellent one at Poupart Bakery). The inclusion of butter or even cream cheese to the icing recipe is not uncommon, although others feel the only appropriate place for cream cheese is inside the King Cake itself.
Very fine icing will fall apart immediately atop liquid, which is why the King Cake Latte needs to be floated with stouter stuff. After much trial and error, I suggest making a simple Diplomat Cream (aka Creme Patissiere), a sort of whipped cream vanilla pudding hybrid that holds up on top of a mug, and makes a sturdy precipice for the critical addition of gold, green, and purple sprinkles.
First make a simple custard. Heat milk in a saucepan, then cream sugar and egg yolks together in a separate bowl, adding flour as you go. Combine the two into the saucepan, remove from heat, and stir until smooth. There's a billion recipes for this—I outlinked the St. John version up above but use whatever style you like.
Then make whipped cream. Whatever your preferred method is here is fine—I like cream, vanilla and icing sugar in an electric mixer, but everyone has their own way, and also store-bought is fine.
Combine the custard and the whipped cream together once everything is room temp. Store in the fridge for a half an hour to let it cool and set up.
Then make your coffee. King Cake is a sweet treat, and your coffee should be too for this drink, although of course the level of sweetness is up to you. Dissolving a teaspoon of brown sugar and powdered cinnamon into brewed not-too-light roasted coffee is a fine move—the house or espresso blend at your favorite indie roaster should work great, but let me specifically recommend this notes of King Cake blend now offered by Mug Drugs. To this you might also add a pre-sweetened alternative milk if that's your preference, or otherwise sweeten up some cold brew. But don't skip the cinnamon—this is a really important part of the King Cake flavor profile.
Pour your sweet and cinnamony coffee into a vessel of your choosing, then top with a dollop of the Diplomat Cream, enough to cover the brew. The King Cake Latte isn't a latte, exclusively; it's more like a King Cake Coffee, and the coffee portion itself can be a latte, or cold brew with stuff added, or brewed coffee with stuff added, and the Diplomat Cream will blend with the liquid as you're drinking with, further latte-fying the proceedings. The name—King Cake Latte—is more about evoking a feeling than any sort of specific drink requirement. Whatever you're into is ultimately what's correct, in this recipe as with all things in life.
Now it's time for sprinkles. The traditional Mardi Gras colors each have their own unique meaning: purple for justice, green for faith, gold for power. It's common to represent all three evenly, but if you're in need of a little more faith or justice this year, the Lord won't mind.
Sprinkle your sprinkles atop the Diplomat Cream, and sip your way through it to the sweet cinnamony beverage below. What a wonderful treat.
As a final note, you might be wondering about the baby—baking a plastic baby inside of King Cake is part of the tradition, but here in 2021 a lot of places sell the baby on the side to avoid choking hazard litigation. Many a King Cake baby is available for sale online, so do with that information what you wish. Happy drinking!