Crowned King's Cake
Serves: 12
Although this cake may seem a bit daunting, it's really not that difficult to make. It just takes a bit of time, that's all! So make it over the course of two days. Day one: make the cake, syrup and orange curd. Day two: make the buttercream, assemble and make the sugar crown.
For the cake:
  • 120g (or ½ cup + 1½ teaspoon) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 120ml (or ½ cup) milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 320g (or 1½ cup + 5 teaspoons) granulated sugar
  • 260g (or 2 cups + 4 teaspoons) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
For the orange syrup:
  • 120ml (or ½ cup) water
  • 60ml (or ¼ cup) freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 50g (or ¼ cup) sugar
For the orange curd:
  • 60ml (or ¼ cup) freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest (make sure the oranges you use are scrubbed clean!)
  • 100g (or ½ cup) granulated sugar
  • 3,5 egg yolks
  • 30g (or 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
For the orange buttercream:
  • 60ml (or ¼ cup) water
  • 280g (or 1⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon) granulated sugar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 435g (or 1¾ cup + 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons homemade orange curd
  • a few drops of orange food coloring
For the spun sugar crown:
  • 200g (or 1 cup) granulated sugar
  • 60ml (or ¼ cup) water
First get the cakes in the oven:
  1. Start by combining the milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat over low heat until the butter has melted. Pour in a heatproof bowl or mug and set aside to cool to body temperature. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F (standard oven setting) and line two 13-cm or 5-inch round cake pans with baking parchment. I like to line both the bottom and the sides of the pans for this cake, as the parchment allows the cakes to rise evenly and form less of a dome.
  2. NOTE: it is easier to line the pans with parchment if you first very lightly butter the pans. You don't have to be neat about it, the parchment just needs something to stick to. If you, like me, only have one 13-cm/5-inch cake pan, just half the recipe to make the first cake, clean the pan then whip up half the recipe again to bake the second cake.
  3. Once the oven is preheating and the pans are lined, combine the eggs, vanilla and sugar in the bowl of a double boiler and heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has warmed to slightly above body temperature. To check whether the sugar has dissolved, rub a little bit of mixture between your thumb and forefinger. You shouldn't feel any sugar crystals. Take the bowl off the heat and mix on high speed for ten minutes, until the mixture is pale and fluffy and the bottom of the bowl feels cool to the touch.
  4. NOTE: by letting the mixture cool, you're essentially stabilizing the fluffiness of the eggs and will end up with a fluffier, lighter cake.
  5. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, salt and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and, using a rubber spatula, stir until just combined. Give the mixture a quick whizz with the mixer. If you would start mixing immediately after you've added the dry ingredients, you would end up with a big puff of flour in your kitchen. Check the milk mixture to make sure it has cooled to body temperature and add it to the batter. Mix until smooth and perfect.
  6. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.
In the meantime, make the orange syrup:
  1. Combine the water, sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan and heat over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has completely dissolved and the syrup is clear, take the pan off the heat and pour the syrup in a mug to cool to room temperature. Once it has cooled to room temperature, place the syrup in the fridge.
Proceed with the orange curd:
  1. In a small saucepan, scald the juice and zest. In the meantime, whisk together the yolks with the sugar until pale and fluffy. Once the juice has come to a boil, slowly drizzle it into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling. Once the juice has been added, return the mixture to the saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens and reaches 78°C (172°F). Take it off the heat, or the curd may split. You can use a sugar thermometer if you're worried about this.
  2. When the mixture has thickened into a curd, take the bowl off the heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into another bowl. Let the curd cool for fifteen minutes.
  3. Add the cubed butter to the still slightly warm curd and stir to combine. Cover the curd by placing a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the curd (press it down with your fingers to push out any air) and let it cool to room temperature before refrigerating it. NOTE: by placing the plastic wrap directly onto the curd you prevent a skin from forming.
By now, the cakes are probably done:
  1. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let them cool in the pan for about 15 minutes or until the pans are cool enough to handle. Take the cakes out of the pan by either inverting the pans or by using the baking parchment to gently lift the cakes out. Place them on a wire rack to cool to room temperature, then wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours or overnight. NOTE: a cool cake is a lot easier to split.
Once the cakes have cooled properly, make the buttercream:
  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then stop stirring. Pop in a candy thermometer and cook the syrup until it reaches 120°C or 248°F.
  2. In the meantime, using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. When the syrup reaches the desired temperature, take the pan off the heat and, mixing gently, slowly drizzle in the hot syrup away from the whisk. Be careful: the sugar syrup obviously is very hot, and if you were to pour it onto the whisk it might splatter, so pour it down the side of the bowl instead.
  3. Once all the syrup has been added, mix on high until the mixture is glossy and glorious and the meringue has cooled to body temperature. Keep mixing and start adding the softened butter, cube by cube, until all the butter has been added and the buttercream is gorgeously smooth and thick. Mix in the vanilla and the orange curd and take a moment to admire what you've just created.
Time to assemble:
  1. First make sure your cake will fit in your refrigerator. Clear a space if necessary. Get the cakes, syrup and curd out of the fridge. Using a serrated knife, remove any dome from the cakes to level it and carefully split each cake in half, then split the halves in half again. In other words, split both cakes in four layers. Make sure to keep your knife perfectly level (place your other hand on top of the cakes; this will give you more control over the knife).
  2. Reserve one of the bottom layers of the cakes for the top of the finished cake. Place a small dollop of buttercream in the middle of a serving plate and place one of the remaining seven cake layers on top of it (press the cake layer down onto the plate). The buttercream will prevent the cake from slipping.
  3. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the cake layer with the orange syrup. Don't overdo it, you don't want the cake to become soggy. Just pretend you're making a watercolor painting. Spoon about a tablespoon of the orange curd on top of the cake layer an use a spatula to spread it evenly over the top of the cake. Scoop about ¼ cup of buttercream on top of the curd and, again, using a spatula, spread it evenly over the top of the cake layer.
  4. NOTE: leaving an 'overhang' of buttercream around the edge of each cake layer will make frosting the cake a lot easier, as you can use it to frost the sides of the cake.
  5. Place the second layer neatly on top of the first and press down lightly. Repeat this process of brushing and frosting with orange curd and buttercream until you come to the eight and final layer. Place the cake layer you reserved neatly, flat-dark-side up, on top of the cake.
Crumb coat:
  1. At this point, you should have a tall cake with 8 visible cake layers and a lot of overhanging buttercream. The cake now needs to be crumb coated. A crumb coat is a thin layer of frosting that locks in the crumbs of the cake and thus keeps the crumbs out of the final layer of frosting.
  2. Crumb coat the cake by using a spatula to smooth the overhanging buttercream over the sides of the cake, pushing it over the top edge of the cake. If necessary, add some more buttercream to the sides of the cake until you have a nice thin coating. Use the excess buttercream you pushed over the top edge of the cake to thinly frost the top. It doesn't matter if there are any crumbs visible in the frosting. Place the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the crumb coat to harden.
  3. NOTE: keep the crumbs out of the buttercream in the bowl by scraping the spatula on the side of another bowl before using it to pick up more buttercream.
  4. While the crumb coat is hardening, place ¼ cup of buttercream in a small piping bag fitted with a 6-mm or ¼-inch star tip. Tint the rest of the buttercream a soft orange with a few drops of orange food coloring. Add the 'presentation layer' of buttercream with a spatula. Once you have an even coating around the entire cake, make upward sweeps with your spatula to create vertical lines in the frosting and to give the cake a 'tall' (and regal!) appearance. Pipe a small star border around the base and on the top rim of the cake.
  5. Clean up the serving plate with a spatula and a clean tea towel and set the cake aside while you make the spun sugar crown.
Make the crown:
  1. Before you start spinning the sugar, place a rolling pin halfway over the edge of your countertop and cover your kitchen floor with old newspapers. Spinning sugar is kind of a messy job.
  2. In a heavy-duty pan, combine the sugar and water and heat over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring and cook the sugar syrup to a golden caramel. Take the pan off the heat and dunk the bottom of the pan in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.
  3. Place the pan on a heatproof surface. Grab a fork and dip it in the caramel. Holding the fork 30 cm (12 inches) above the rolling pin and flick the caramel over the rolling pin to create long strands of sugar. As the caramel cools, it will thicken and the sugar strands will drop slower. Repeat the process with the rest of the caramel until the caramel becomes too thick to flick over the rolling pin. Using your hands, gather up the sugar strands into a ball or nest. NOTE: I used two batches of caramel. The first batch was a much darker caramel that I formed into a circle/nest to form the base of the crown. I then topped this circle/nest with a big ball of much lighter caramel strands.
  4. When you are ready to serve, top the cake with the crown. NOTE: spun sugar doesn't keep well in the fridge or on top of the cake. If you want to make it in advance, store it in an airtight container and garnish the cake a few minutes before serving.
  5. Serve the cake immediately or within two hours. The crownless cake can be stored in the fridge for three days, but make sure to take it out of the fridge well before you want to serve it. The buttercream needs at least 4 or 5 hours to come to room temperature again.
Recipe by The Tough Cookie at