It’s Mardi Gras time! Mardi Gras conjures up images of fun, frivolity and feasting and no Mardi Gras celebration would be complete without a colorful Mardi Gras King Cake. Why buy a King Cake when you can make your own, better-tasting, moist, and tender King Cake this year?
What is a Mardi Gras King Cake
A brioche or sweet roll dough is braided, baked in a circle, and decorated with icing and purple, green and gold sugars. Kind of like a crown-shaped cinnamon roll all dressed up for a party. The shape of the King Cake, with its distinctive crown design, symbolizes the three wise men or kings who traveled to visit Jesus. The colors of the King Cake (also the traditional colors of Mardi Gras celebrations) are also symbolic, with purple symbolizing justice, green representing faith, and gold signifying power or prosperity.
My sister has lived in Louisiana for many years and she talks about all the fabulous King Cakes she’s had over the years. So when Betty Crocker offered me the opportunity to develop a Mardi Gras King Cake recipe for their site, it was the perfect opportunity for me to bake this scrumptious bread/coffee cake.
My recipe uses Quick Rise yeast which eliminates the time consuming first rise in many brioche recipes. My cake is filled with a traditional cinnamon sugar filling, but it would be fabulous with a cream cheese filling or fruit filling as well.
Traditionally a King Cake has a tiny plastic baby figurine, representing baby Jesus, hidden inside the cake. The practice of hiding a baby figurine in the cake is rooted in the religious story of the Epiphany, which celebrates the arrival of the three wise men or kings to visit the baby Jesus. Tradition says that whoever finds the baby in their piece of cake will have good luck and prosperity, and the finder is often expected to host the party next year or provide the next cake.
Just like when you bake cinnamon rolls, some of the filling will leak out onto the bottom of the pan. Be sure and bake it with some parchment paper or a silicone baking mat underneath it, so it’s easy to clean up.
If you have questions about how to braid the King cake, be sure and watch the video.
- Flour: this recipe uses all-purpose flour which results in a good structure and texture and the perfect amount of chewy!
- Yeast: I use quick-rise yeast because it allows the dough to rise faster, reduces the overall preparation time, and simplifies the recipe.
- Milk: the recipe uses warm milk to help activate the yeast and promote dough rising – giving the cake its fluffy texture. Any type of milk can be used for King Cake, I prefer whole milk which tends to add flavor and tenderness to the dough. However, if you prefer a lighter or lower-fat cake, you can use low-fat or nonfat milk instead.
- Granulated sugar: this is what gives the brioche or sweet roll dough its delightful sweetness!
- Brown sugar: this sweetens up the cinnamon filling.
- Powdered sugar: powdered or confectioners sugar is used for the icing.
- Colored sugars: green, purple, and yellow or gold sanding sugar or sprinkles (or both!) are used to decorate the cake. If you are like me, finding colored sugar (or a tiny plastic baby for that matter) may be a little hard. I found a kit online selling all three colors and the plastic babies. However, you can also make your own colored sugar at home if you prefer. You will need about ⅛ cup of each color. In a jar with a tight fitting lid add ⅛ cup granulated sugar and a couple drops of food coloring. Place the lid tightly on the bottle and shake vigorously until the sugar is evenly dyed.
- Eggs: this recipe uses two whole eggs.
- Butter: I use unsalted butter for this recipe.
- Vanilla, cinnamon, and salt
How to Make Mardi Gras King Cake
This recipe is an absolute delight to make and will take approximately three hours to complete, with the majority of the time being spent waiting for the dough to rise. Don’t worry though, each step is simple and easy to follow. Let’s get started with these step-by-step instructions:
To make the dough, start by combining 2 ½ cups of flour and the quick-rise yeast in a stand mixing bowl – using the paddle attachment. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat milk, sugar, and salt until the sugar is dissolved and the milk is between 120º to 130º.
Pour in the liquids and mix until incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time and continue mixing until a sticky dough forms. Clean off the paddle and switch to the dough hook. Add the remaining flour, a little at a time, as needed to make a soft dough.
Then, add the softened butter a piece at a time, kneading until each piece of butter is absorbed. Knead for eight minutes on low, ensuring that the dough completely clears the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too sticky, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time. If the dough seems too dry, spritz it with water from a spray bottle a couple of times. Every 2 minutes, stop the machine, scrape the dough off the hook, and then continue kneading.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a few times by hand to be sure it’s smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball and place it into a greased bowl, turning it once so the greased surface is on top. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 hour.
While the dough is chilling, make the cinnamon filling. Combine the brown sugar and ground cinnamon, then combine the butter with the cinnamon mixture and mix well.
To assemble the cake, roll the chilled dough into a 10 x 20 inch rectangle. Spread the filling on half of the long side of the dough, then fold the dough in half, covering the filling. Pat the dough down firmly so it will stick together.
Cut the dough into three long strips lengthwise using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, then press the tops of the three strips together and braid them. Press the ends together at the bottom, then gently stretch the braid so that it measures 20 inches again. Shape it into a circle and press the ends together.
Transfer the dough ring to a parchment-lined, silicone mat-lined, or greased baking sheet. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350º. Bake the cake until it is golden brown, which should take between 20 and 35 minutes. (It should feel firm to the touch and have an internal temperature of about 190°.) Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet before placing it on a cooling rack to cool completely before icing. Now is a good time to gently push the plastic baby down into a fold of the cake or make a slice in the bottom and stick it in there.
To make the icing, mix powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. You may need to add additional milk if the mixture is too thick or powdered sugar if it’s too thin. You are looking for a smooth, pourable consistency. Spoon the icing over the top of the cake. Sprinkle on the green, purple and gold colored sugar, alternating between the three colors. Give each anxiously waiting guest a slice of cake and see who gets the baby!
To store leftover King Cake, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 3 days. You can also store it in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze it for up to 2 months. To freeze, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then place it in a resealable freezer bag. Thaw frozen King Cake in the refrigerator overnight before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
King Cake is typically made from a brioche dough – a rich and buttery French pastry dough.
In the traditional Mardi Gras colors used on a King Cake, purple symbolizes justice, green represents faith, and gold represents power.
King Cake tastes sweet and rich, with a soft and fluffy texture. The filling is typically flavored with cinnamon, but may have a filling of cream cheese, fruit, or pecan praline. The cake is covered in sweet green, gold, and purple sugar or icing
Of course, you don’t have to live in Louisiana to enjoy this Mardi Gras King Cake. It’s been nine years since I first posted the recipe, and I’ve had comments from people all across the US, many who have Southern roots and celebrate with a King Cake this time of year. Mel said:
I’m from New Orleans but live in a different city at the moment. I was really missing home during this Mardi Gras season and had never made a king cake before I found this recipe. Tried it and it was AMAZING! Thank you so much for this authentic recipe. You not only helped me make a bomb king cake, but allowed me to share it with my out-of-town friends and brought back some MG memories through this perfect recipe.
I hope you’ll give it a try too! I’ve added a video to show you how easy it is to make.
More Celebration Desserts You Might Like:
Pithivier (Galette De Rois / King Cake), Barbara Bakes
Easy Beignets, Barbara Bakes
Mardi Gras Cupcakes, Java Cupcake
Pull-Apart Mardi Gras King Cake, Joy the Baker
Mardi Gras King Cake Recipe
- 3 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 1 package 2 ¼ teaspoons Quick Rise yeast
- 1 cup warm milk 120º to 130º
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter softened, cut into 12 pieces
- ⅔ cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
- 1 cup powdered or confectioners sugar
- 1 tablespoon milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- dark green, purple, and yellow or gold sugars about ⅛ cup of each
- miniature plastic baby
- Mix 2 ½ cups flour and yeast in mixing bowl, using the paddle attachment, on low for about 30 seconds.
- Heat milk, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and milk is between 120º to 130º.
- With mixer on low, pour in liquids and mix until incorporated. Add eggs one at a time. Continue mixing until a shaggy dough forms.
- Clean off paddle and switch to dough hook. Mix in the remaining 1 cup flour a little at a time, adding more or less flour as needed to make a soft dough.
- Add the softened butter, a piece at a time, kneading until each piece of butter is absorbed. Knead for eight minutes on low. The dough should completely clear the sides of the bowl. If it is too sticky, add additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing in thoroughly before determining if more flour is needed. If the dough seems too dry, spritz with water from a spray bottle a couple of times, mixing in thoroughly before determining if more water is needed. Every 2 minutes, stop the machine, scrape the dough off the hook, and then continue kneading.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times by hand to be sure it’s smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball. Place dough into a greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- While the dough is chilling, make cinnamon filling. Combine the brown sugar and ground cinnamon. Combine butter with cinnamon mixture and mix well.
- Roll the chilled dough into a 10 x 20 inch rectangle. Spread the filling on half of the long side of the dough. Fold the dough in half covering the filling. Pat dough down firmly so the dough will stick together.
- Cut dough into three long strips lengthwise. Press the tops of the strips together and braid the strips. Press the ends together at the bottom.
- Gently stretch the braid so that it measures 20 inches again. Shape it into a circle/oval and press the ends together.
- Transfer the ring to a parchment lined, silicone mat lined, or greased baking sheet. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
- While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350º. Bake the cake until it is golden brown, 20–35 minutes. (It should feel firm to the touch, and have an internal temperature of about 190°.) Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes on baking sheet and then place it on a cooling rack to cool completely before icing.
- Gently press the miniature plastic baby into a crease of the cake, deep enough to covered by the icing.
- In a small bowl, mix powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth (add additional milk if mixture is too thick or powdered sugar if too thin).
- Spoon icing over top of the cake. Immediately sprinkle on colored sugar, alternating between the three colors.