king cake chocolate

King cakes at Bittersweet Confections, a chocolate candy, confectionary and wedding cake store at 725 Magazine St. The small shop cannot bake in quantity, so sometimes their king cakes are all sold by noon. They offer shipping. (Bittersweet Confections photo)

"Hi Judy," writes Helen Hughes from Lafayette with a question for Mardi Gras season. "HOW IN THE WORLD do bakeries fill their king cakes with puddings and custards? I am so tired of wasting eggs and flour, etc., trying to bake the fillings into king cakes!

"I have finally decided they must pipe the puddings in after the dough has baked, but it doesn't seem like there would be enough room inside the dough since no 'tunnel' is available to receive the pudding.

"We all enjoy the articles on king cakes but a filling will make or break it. Any suggestions would be wonderful. Thank you!"

Helen is a devoted baker, as are her five daughters, I learned when we spoke. I've seen bakeries do filling several ways.

Some commercial doughnut bakeries have automatic filling machines, with spigots on the ends of tubes to inject filling into disc-shaped doughnuts. A few king cakes are made of doughnut dough, but are they filled like this? Most king cakes are made with brioche or a dough that's like a Danish.

"It's hard to get them to be filled like an eclair, because the way brioche bakes, you can't pipe it in afterwards," said Bittersweet Confections general manager Ben Kunz.

Not until a customer orders one are the deep-fried giant oval doughnut king cakes at Mr. Ronnie's Famous Hot Donuts in Houma filled. They are split horizontally and the filling is spread on the bottom; then the top is replaced.

Mr. Ronnie's shares the horizontal-split distinction with the extravagant king cake at Domenica, created by pastry chef Lisa Marie White. It's cut in half like a sandwich, with layers of sliced bananas, piped-in mascarpone cheese, salted caramel, pecans and caramello.

King cakes in the Randazzo family style are braided, with fillings on top of the (white) icing, piped or otherwise stuffed/placed down into the crevices created by the braiding. Sometimes, the filling is a rivulet running around the entire top. You clearly can these photos on the websites of Randazzo's Camellia CitBakery, Manny Randazzo King Cakes and Nonna Randazzo King Cakes.

One of the oldest bakers of king cakes, Gambino's Bakery, rolls the fillings inside. The king cakes are not braided.

The typical at-home recipe for king cake calls for rolling the dough into a flat rectangle. Filling is sprinkled, spread or piped onto the rectangle, leaving a clean border at the edge. The dough is rolled up and shaped into a ring. Ends are pinched together to connect them, and then the king cake is baked.

Ideally, the seam of the king cake is on the bottom. Sometimes, problems can cause filling to leak: A hole or too-thin patch in the dough, maybe, or failure to pinch the ends enough to close them.

Cream cheese fillings tend to melt into the dough somewhat when baked, giving the king cake a creamy, tender interior. I had the same impression when I tasted Aunt Sally's Croissant Almond Queen Cake for the first time. The marzipan filling inside was barely discernible, as if it had merged with the dough.

The other new Aunt Sally's king cake is made with two of their praline products, shipped to the bakery who creates them. The company trucks a big slab of praline to the baker, who cuts off a strip and rolls the dough around it before baking.

"When we first said, 'Let's make our own king cakes,' we put in the cream cheese," Helen said. "I have blueberry trees, and we would put (blueberries) on the bed of cream cheese. That's always been delicious.

"But you have bakeries and pastry shops that have Bavarian cream and chocolate fillings, and we never have been able to get those right.

"They always just seem to bake out of it."

She's tried chocolate filling recipes she found on the Internet, Helen said. Even though she sealed the dough very well, one made with shortening and cocoa completed leaked out. Another, made with eggs and chocolate morsels that was then melted and cooled, "stayed in like a cinnamon roll would, but it was very lame, not a rich chocolate at all."

I spoke to the owner as well as the general manager of Bittersweet Confections, the boutique chocolate shop at 725 Magazine St. They use their chocolate ganache to fill king cakes, mixed with cream cheese in a ratio of three parts cream cheese to one part ganache. It's piped onto rectangles of brioche dough, which are rolled, braided, proofed and baked.

Filling each of three ropes in the braid is laborious work, a labor of love, said owner Cheryl Scripter. And piping the filling is the neatest, quickest way to work.

"We use a Swiss chocolate, 58 percent dark chocolate," Scripter said. "I feel like that's what makes it such a good flavor. It's got a good mouth feel."

Scripter and her crew have made king cakes with a brioche dough for the past four Carnival seasons, and they're shipping more than ever, she said. They are a small shop, with only two ovens, and can make a limited number of king cakes. Many days they are sold out by 11 or 11:30 a.m., Scripter said; lots of customers reserve them ahead of time. (Hint to boyfriends and husbands: They're baking unfilled heart-shaped king cakes for Valentine's Day/Endymion Saturday.)

Bavarian cream is thinner, and would need  to be thickened to use as a king cake filling, Scripter said. However, thickening could interfere with the flavor.

I'm hoping this story will prompt other bakers, amateur and professional, to share their opinions and methods for filling king cakes. Is there some foolproof method not mentioned here? Could you make a filling and chill it before baking?

What are the nuances? You can comment in the section below this story (sign up here if you don't have an account) anytime or join our chat at noon on Wednesday, Feb. 4.

As always you can email Judy at jwalker@nola.com with any questions or story ideas. 

And if you are an enthusiastic consumer of king cake, here is the part of the story for you.

You may also check out our guide to dozens of king cakes throughout the New Orleans area.

Database of King Cakes

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