Happy Mardi Gras! No carnival celebration is complete without a big bowl of New Orleans Gumbo and a colorful King Cake!
What's In This Article
What is a King Cake?
King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gras sweet bread that symbolizes a crown, specifically one that the three kings who visited Christ on the day of his birth wore. Sparkling sugar colors represent purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power and prosperity.
A tiny plastic baby, baby Jesus, is inserted into each cake after baking. The individual who gets the slice with the baby will have good fortune for the upcoming year. They are also obliged to host the next year’s King Cake party or buy the next cake.
However, if you are slicing and happen to slice that poor little plastic baby, you will have bad luck for the upcoming year. If we are being honest, no one actually bakes the baby in anymore- they are a chiking hazard.
What Does King Cake Taste Like?
King Cake is called “cake” but is more of a cross between a Danish pastry and French brioche. They are typically only made during the time of Mardi Gras, which starts over a month before the actual week of festivities. Bakeries around town make their own rendition of the cakes and range from spongy to nutty and everything between.
Some are traditional, others aren’t. Antoine’s Bakery is wildly popular, but makes them in many shapes and sizes. While any local will tell you that Dong Phuong is absolutely the best. There are plenty available for tourists throughout the city and even at the airport out-of-season.
King Cake Fillings
The sweet and buttery bread can be stuffed with so many different things. My favorite is probably cream cheese, but each bakery makes a special filling every year. Other varieties include:
- Pecan and praline
- Raspberry creme
- Fruits and jams
- Cinnamon sugar
- Bavarian cream
My version is stuffed with a raisin, brown sugar and pecan filling and then topped with a powdered sugar glaze and bright sparkling sugar.
More New Orleans Inspired recipes:
Mardi Gras King Cake Recipe
- 1/2 cup scalded milk
- 2 tablespoons butter , melted
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup warm water , no hotter than 110 degrees
- 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar , divided
- 1 egg , room temperature
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 3/4 cups flour
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2/3 cup pecans , finely chopped
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup butter , melted
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 3-4 tablespoons milk
- Purple, Gold and Green Sparkling Sugar
- 1 Plastic Baby
- In a large mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a which attachment, combine 1 package of dry active yeast, 1 tablespoon of sugar and warm water. Take care that water is not too hot or it will kill the yeast and prevent it from blooming. Allow to set until frothy and fragrant, approximately 10-15 minutes.
- Whisk in scalded milk, melted butter and egg. When combined add remaining sugar (1 cup), nutmeg and salt, whisk again.
- Change attachment to the bread hook (or beaters). Combine flour into wet mixture 1/2 cup at a time. Dough should start to pull away from the sides, if not, add small (1-2 teaspoons) of flour until it does.
- Knead dough on low-medium speed (or with your hands on a floured surface) for 10 minutes.
- Lightly grease a large mixing bowl, turning dough over once to evenly oil and prevent from drying. Dampen a tea towel, cover and set in a draft free place. Allow to rise until doubled in size, approximately 2 hours.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine all filling ingredients and toss until uniformly damp from melted butter.
- Turn dough on a lightly floured surface and using a rolling pin, create a rectangle about 18×8 inches. Cut in half length wise with a knife.
- Spread filling mixture evenly over both sections of dough, leaving a 1/2 inch at each edge.
- Roll, lengthwise and jelly roll style, into a rope. Carefully, twist together the two ropes and form into a circle, pinch the two ends together to make a wreath.
- Carefully transfer to a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Cover with damp tea towel and allow to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. King Cake should be lightly browned.
- Remove and allow to cool fully. Whisk together glaze ingredients and drizzle over King Cake. Sprinkle alternating gold, purple and green sparkling sugar while glaze is still tacky.
- You are ready to serve!
- If you’ve tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was!
You say 1/4 sugar in the ingredients then an entire cup in the directions. Which is it? Had to throw the first try out
Hi Megan! So sorry for the confusion- I imported recipes from my old site and it seems this one had a glitch when using fractions. It is 1 cup and I’ll update the ingredient list.
loved the flavor. my only complaint is that the cake was very brown at the 18 minute mark when I checked on it. ended up lowering the temp to 350 and covered it with foil the last 12 minutes but the bottom was very tough.
I tried this recipe today. Thank you for sharing it.
Although it did turn out tasty, I have a couple of requests:
1. Please clarify the sugar measurements – I wasn’t sure what this meant –
“1/4 tablespoon cup plus 1sugar, divided”
I ended up using the 1 tablespoon in the yeast mixture and 1/4 cup in the cake mixture.
I’m not sure if this was correct or not, I was going by similar recipes.
2. The recipe doesn’t state how/where to use the cake portion’s 2 tablespoons of butter. I added it to the wet cake mixture ingredients, because that’s what made the most sense to me at the time.
Aside from those two items that I was unsure of, it still turned out great and was
exactly what I was hoping for texture-wise. Cheers and Happy Mardi Gras!
Thank you for the feedback! We recently switched recipe templates and it seems some of the instructions were lost in translation. We will clarify.
I was nervous about the couple of errors in the recipe (didn’t use the butter in the dough cause I wasn’t sure how to incorporate it) but it turned out GREAT! So easy and yummy! I’ll definitely be making it again. It can “moonlight” as a breakfast bread for any occasion.Thanks!
Glad it turned out well! All of the errors have been corrected.
This is such a fun tradition! I love the story behind it! It totally looks like it’s right my alley taste-wise, as well!
Such a gorgeous cake. Love all the pretty colors and the cinnamon & pecans sound really yummy in this.
This cake looks so festive and beautiful. I never had King Cake before, I look forward to trying some soon.
What a beautiful king cake! I have never known until now what the mardis gras colors representated. Thanks for that info and a fabulous recipe!
I’ve never had a king cake before. Crazy, right?! This looks so festive – I have to try it!
Great on the inside and great color on the outside.
I tried this recipe twice with no luck! I had to add quite a bit of extra flour to get it to a dough consistency, and then it didn’t rise. I thought maybe I didn’t let the milk cool enough the first time, so I made sure it was the correct temp the second time, but still had the same results. I’m not sure where I went wrong! Any pointers would be appreciated!
Ugh, I’m so sorry to hear that! If you want to email me at email@example.com, I’d be happy to help you troubleshoot the issue.
This is so beautiful! I think I should make this and serve it with Gumbo for a special celebration! Thanks for the recipe.