King cake

Sweet and gaudy: Ring-shaped, gaudily decorated with golds, greens and purples, and always containing a hidden trinket of some sort, the king cake is a tradition as firmly rooted in French culture as New Orleans itself. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)

8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 whole egg
2 tablespoons water
1 dried bean
Colored sugars or confectioners' sugar and food coloring

1. For the dough, mix the yeast with warm water in a small bowl. Stir 1 teaspoon each of sugar and flour into the yeast; set aside until it begins to bubble.

2. Heat the milk to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat; stir in the butter and remaining sugar. Pour into a large bowl; the mixture should be lukewarm. Beat in the egg yolks, whole eggs and the yeast mixture.

3. Beat in approximately 2 cups flour, until the dough is fairly smooth; gradually add enough additional flour to make a soft dough that you can form into a ball. Knead, by hand or machine, until smooth and elastic. Lightly oil a bowl; turn the dough once or twice in it to grease it lightly all over. Cover with a cloth; leave to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, 1 1/2 -2 hours.

4. Pat the dough down; cover the bowl with a damp towel and plastic film over that. Refrigerate until the next day.

5. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove half the dough from refrigerator with well-floured hands; while it's firm and cold, shape into a long sausage shape. Using a floured roller on a floured surface, roll out the dough into a 30-by-9-inch rectangle as thin as a pie crust. Let dough rest.

6. For the filling, drain extra juice from pie filling, if necessary. Mix the cream cheese with the sugar, flour, egg yolks and vanilla. Spoon an inch-wide strip of fruit filling the length of the dough, about 3 inches from one edge. Spoon the cream cheese mixture alongside the fruit, about 3 inches from the outer edge. Mix the egg and water in a small bowl to make an egg wash. Brush both sides of dough with egg wash. Insert the bean.

7. Fold one edge of the dough over the fillings; fold the other edge over. Turn the filled roll seam side down. Gently place one end onto a greased large cookie sheet. Ease the rest of the roll onto the pan, joining the ends to form a circle or oval. Cover; let rest, 30 minutes. Brush with egg wash; cut deep vents into the cake. Sprinkle with colored sugars if you like.

8. Bake until cake is well risen and golden, 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool. If you did not sprinkle with colored sugars, ice with confectioners' sugar mixed with enough water to make a spreadable paste and tinted purple, green and gold in batches. If using a plastic baby instead of the bean, insert it into the bottom of the cake after it is cooked.

Nutrition information:
Per serving (for 12 servings): 319 calories, 16 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 119 mg cholesterol, 37 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 85 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.