Mardi Gras King Cake

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King Cake-- the preferred dessert/snack of Mardi Gras.  It wouldn't be Carnival without one.  From the Twelfth Night (January 6) to Fat Tuesday (date varies) King Cakes are baked and gobbled up all over New Orleans.

Although the name implies cake, it is essentially a sweetened, enriched bread dough similar to a brioche.  Think coffee cake (yes, you can eat it for breakfast, too☺).  They are glazed with a simple confectioners' sugar mixture, then colored sugar or crystals in Mardi Gras colors crown the top; purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. The King Cakes I enjoyed in my youth were all filled with a cinnamon filling, but nowadays there are other versions filled with cream cheese, praline, and even one with a coconut filling and chocolate icing--yum!

To add to the fun and festivities, a plastic baby or figurine is hidden in the cake (added after the cake has baked).  The one who receives the piece with the trinket is responsible for hosting the next party and/or providing the next King Cake.  Just warn your guests about the hidden treasure.  You don't want to be responsible for any dental bills!
Printable Recipe

Mardi Gras King Cake
makes one 12-inch oval cake

For the Dough
1/2 cup milk
2 Tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 extra large egg
1 extra large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

For the Filling
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 Tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

For the Icing and Decoration
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Colored sugar crystals
Plastic baby or figurine

For the Dough
In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk until bubbles appear around the edges.  Add the butter and set aside to cool to room temperature.  

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the sugar.  Let stand until bubbled and frothy, about 10 minutes.  Add the cooled milk mixture, the eggs, remaining sugar, vanilla, salt, and nutmeg.  With the mixer on low, knead in the flour one cup at a time.  Increase the speed to medium-high and knead until smooth, about 5-7 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead into a ball.  Spray a large bowl with non-stick spray, cover with a sheet of plastic wrap, and place in a warm, draft free place until doubled in volume, about 60-90 minutes.

For the Filling
In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, pecans if using, and flour.  Pour in the melted butter and mix until a paste forms; set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

When the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface.  Roll the dough into a 10x24-inch rectangle.  Spread the filling (it won't be smooth and even) over the dough.  Starting with the widest end, roll up the dough into a jelly roll, pinching the seems well.  Bring the ends together to form an oval, pinching the end seams, as well.  Place the oval onto the prepared baking sheet.  Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm draft free place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375° F.  Bake the cake for 30 minutes, tenting with a sheet of foil the last 10 minutes if it appears to be browning too quickly.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the Icing and Decoration
Gently push the plastic baby/figurine in the bottom side of the cake. In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners' sugar, milk, corn syrup, and vanilla until smooth.  Place the cake (still on the rack) over a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the icing over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides.  Sprinkle with the sugar crystals, alternating colors as you go.  Allow the icing to set before slicing.  Enjoy!

Source: Adapted from Damn Good Sweet, by David Guas and Raquel Pelzel, and allrecipes.com  


  1. so fun!! we do something similar here in spain for king's day, which is in january also and celebrates the day the wise men visited Jesus. a similar in shape cake is eaten with a toy also hidden inside and the person that eats it has to bring the cake to the next year's festivities!! so fun!!!

  2. How interesting, we do similar cake for Easter. Although, for the filling we usually use plum jam or apricot jam. Wow! I love the decoration. Thanks for the recipe.

  3. It turned out beautifully! Well done!

  4. Nicole, what a fun and pretty cake! I never heard of this before but it looks delicious!

  5. I made this for a Mardi Gras party this year and everyone was asking for the recipe! A few people bought store-bought king cakes, but mine was the first to go! Thanks for this recipe!


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