I originally shared this recipe for Mardi Gras King Cake 8 years ago, when Our Best Bites was an itty bitty baby and my relationship with Louisiana was in its early stages. Things have changed a lot since then, but some things never change–Mardi Gras is still the most fun time of year around here, king cake can either be incredibly delicious or completely terrible, and, delicious as they are, the traditional big cakes are impossible to make look good in pictures. Luckily, I’ll show you how to make a traditional big one as well as a bunch of smaller cakes, which are really fun and a super cute way to celebrate, whether you’re a Louisianan or just partying like one.

 

There’s a lot of symbolism and just stuff involved with king cake, most notably the gold, green, and purple sprinkles and the plastic baby (I’ve heard the colors represent the three wise men and also that purple=justice, green=faith, gold=power; I’ve also heard that the three colors represent The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, so I just don’t know what’s true. Also, the finder of the plastic baby (which is Baby Jesus) gets to be the next Mardi Gras king or queen.) I don’t recommend baking the babies (or dried beans, in a pinch) inside the cake for lots of reasons; if you decide to use the plastic babies, I recommend tucking the baby into the bottom of the cake after it’s baked or using them on top as decoration.

If you’re in the market for plastic babies, I bought mine here and got them almost immediately (as did Sara due to a shipping mishap, and she’s on the other side of the country). You can always try Amazon, but the options are kind of limited. That said, Amazon is a great place to find purple, gold, and green sprinkles.

This recipe is full of lots of options and alternatives, but I’ve tried to keep it as simple and organized as possible. Just like just about every traditional Louisiana food, there are a million ways to do it and everyone thinks theirs is the right way, depending on where they live and their family traditions. I have the luxury of being able to say, “Ermmm, I’m not from here…” and then awkwardly exiting the conversation with a mouth full of carbs. 

To prepare the dough, you’ll need whole milk, sugar, a flavor-neutral vegetable oil like canola or peanut oil, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Combine milk,

sugar,

and oil

in a large pot. Heat just to boiling, stirring occasionally, and then remove from heat.

If you’ve got lots of ice handy, dump all that you have into a clean sink and then place the pan of scalded milk over the ice. This way, the milk mixture cools quickly and the melted ice just drips down the drain.

When the milk is warm (around 105-115 degrees), remove from ice and sprinkle yeast over the milk mixture.

Allow to stand for 10 minutes. Mix in 8 cups of flour (lightly spooned into measuring cups and leveled with a knife)–this can be done with a wooden spoon; the dough is VERY soft, more like a batter.

Cover with a clean dish cloth and allow to rise for 1 hour.

Mix remaining 1 cup flour with baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Sprinkle over the dough

and then mix it in with the wooden spoon. You may need to mix it with your hands to ensure all the dry ingredients get incorporated.

Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the pan and refrigerate for at least a few hours and up to a few days (just be sure and punch the dough down as necessary so it doesn’t spill all over your fridge).

When ready to make your King Cakes, decide how you want to prepare them. This dough will make enough for 2 large king cakes, 16 small, individual cakes, or a combination of the two (like one large cake and 8 small cakes). You’ll also need to decide how you want to fill them (I’m including instructions for cinnamon cream cheese, cream cheese and fruit, and cinnamon sugar.) See the notes below for individual filling instructions.

To Make Large Cakes

To prepare cakes, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Turn dough onto a greased surface and divide in half. Roll one half into a 4-5″-24″ rectangle.

If using one of the cream cheese fillings, spread with 1/2 of the cream cheese mixture.

If using cinnamon sugar, spread about 3-4 tablespoons softened butter onto the dough, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. and then carefully roll the dough lengthwise into a tube. Seal the edges of the dough and then carefully form a circle and seal the two ends together.

Place on a greased cookie sheet and cover with a clean cloth.

Preheat oven to 375 and repeat with other 1/2 portion of dough.

Bake each ring for 20-35 minutes or until the tops are deep, golden brown–you don’t want to burn them, but you want to make sure the cakes are cooked all the way through. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. 

To Make Individual Cakes

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions. Then divide each portion in half and roll each portion into “snakes” about 10-12″ long.

Lay one snake on top of the other,

carefully tie the bottom snake into a knot around the top portion of dough,

then tie the other dough snake into a knot.

Tuck the ends under the dough and arrange the knots so they look the way you want them.

Repeat with remaining dough, making 8 cakes per pan.

Melt 4-6 tablespoons of butter per pan (so if you’re making two pans of mini cakes, you’ll need a full cup of butter) and brush generously over the cakes.

Sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar (recipe below).

Cover and allow to rise for 20-30 minutes. While the cakes are rising, preheat oven to 375 F. Bake for 18-20 minutes (or longer if necessary) or until the tops and edges are golden brown.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Glazing the Cakes

While the cakes are cooling, prepare the glaze. Mix powdered sugar and melted butter together with an electric mixer. Add in almond extract and then add enough milk to achieve the desired consistency you want for your glaze. When the cakes are cool, spoon the glaze over the cakes and then sprinkle with alternating yellow, purple, and green sugars and top with a plastic baby. 

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Mardi Gras King Cake

  • Author: kate jones
  • Yield: 2 large king cakes, 16 small king cakes, or any combination

Description

 


Ingredients

Dough:

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (mild, like peanut or canola)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 packages active dry yeast (1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast)
  • 9 cups all purpose flour (lightly spooned into measuring cups and leveled with a spoon)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 scant teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon table salt

FILLINGS:

    CINNAMON CREAM CHEESE:

    • 8 ounce cream cheese, softened
    • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
    • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
    • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon

    FRUIT & CREAM CHEESE:

    • 8 ounces cream cheese
    • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
    • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla
    • 1/2 heaping cup canned cherries or strawberries

    CINNAMON SUGAR (you won’t use all of this):

    • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cinnamon

    ICING:

    • 1 pound powdered sugar
    • 1 stick butter, melted
    • 1 teaspoon almond extract
    • Enough milk or half and half to reach desired consistency

    TOPPINGS:

    • Purple, green, and gold sprinkles
    • Plastic babies

    Instructions

    To prepare the dough, combine milk, sugar, and oil in a large pot. Heat just to boiling, stirring occasionally, and then remove from heat.

    If you’ve got lots of ice handy, dump all that you have into a clean sink and then place the pan of scalded milk over the ice. This way, the milk mixture cools quickly and the melted ice just drips down the drain.

    When the milk is warm (around 105-115 degrees), remove from ice and sprinkle yeast over the milk mixture. Allow to stand for 10 minutes. Stir. Mix in 8 cups of flour (lightly spooned into measuring cups and leveled with a knife) with a wooden spoon (the dough will be VERY soft, almost like a batter) and cover with a clean dish cloth and allow to rise for 1 hour. 

    Mix remaining 1 cup flour with baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Sprinkle over the dough and then mix it in with the wooden spoon. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the pan and refrigerate for at least a few hours and up to a few days–just be sure to check on it periodically and punch the dough down if necessary.

    When ready to make your King Cakes, decide how you want to prepare them. This dough will make enough for 2 large king cakes, 16 small, individual cakes, or a combination of the two (like one large cake and 8 small cakes). You’ll also need to decide how you want to fill them (I’m including instructions for cinnamon cream cheese, cream cheese and fruit, and cinnamon sugar. See the notes below for individual filling instructions.

    To Make Large Cakes

    To prepare cakes, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Turn dough onto a greased surface and divide in half. Roll one half into a 4-5″-24″ rectangle. If using one of the cream cheese fillings, spread with 1/2 of the cream cheese mixture. If using cinnamon sugar, spread about 3-4 tablespoons softened butter onto the dough, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. and then carefully roll the dough lengthwise into a tube. Seal the edges of the dough and then carefully form a circle and seal the two ends together.

    Place on a greased cookie sheet and cover with a clean cloth.

    Preheat oven to 375 and repeat with other 1/2 portion of dough.

    Bake each ring for 20-35 minutes or until the tops are deep, golden brown–you don’t want to burn them, but you want to make sure the cakes are cooked all the way through. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. 

    To Make Individual Cakes

    Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions. Then divide each portion in half and roll each portion into “snakes” about 10-12″ long. Lay one snake on top of the other, carefully tie the bottom snake into a knot around the top portion of dough, then tie the other dough snake into a knot. Tuck the ends under the dough and arrange the knots so they look the way you want them. (See pictures above to see how this works…it’s easier than it sounds.) Repeat with remaining dough, making 8 cakes per pan.

    Melt 4-6 tablespoons of butter and brush generously over the cakes. Sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar. Cover and allow to rise for 20-30 minutes. While the cakes are rising, preheat oven to 375 F. Bake for 18-20 minutes (or longer if necessary) or until the tops and edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

    Glazing the Cakes

    While the cakes are cooling, prepare the glaze. Mix powdered sugar and melted butter together with an electric mixer. Add in almond extract and then add enough milk to achieve the desired consistency you want for your glaze. When the cakes are cool, spoon the glaze over the cakes and then sprinkle with alternating yellow, purple, and green sugars and top with a plastic baby. 


    Notes

    FILLING INSTRUCTIONS

    Cinnamon Cream Cheese (enough for 1 cake)

    Combine softened cream cheese, cinnamon, almond extract, and powdered sugar in a small mixer and mix with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy.

    Fruit & Cream Cheese

    Combine softened cream cheese, canned fruit, almond extract, and powdered sugar in a small mixer and mix with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy.

    Cinnamon Sugar

    Whisk together granulated sugar and cinnamon. You will not use the entire recipe–save any leftovers for other uses.

     

     

     

     

    47 comments

    1. Youare right when you say it is kinda ugly, but that slice of it looks mighty appealing to me! In fact it looks downright delicious! Happy Mardis Gras!!

    2. That looks weird yet good. In my book any sweet dough, stuffed with cream cheese qualifies as good! I just might make one but since I am no where near Louisiana, nor do I celebrate MardiGras I'm thinking I can just forgo the fancy sugary glittery top…..

      now about that high priced milk:
      I live in bush Alaska. We have high priced milk……

      http://skippy-n-scoop.blogspot.com/2009/06/winner.html
      see for yourself!!

    3. So that's what those cakes are! I've been seeing them at the grocery stores here in Texas lately. I figured they must be for Mardi Gras with that purple and green on top. I thought about sending a picture to cake wrecks because they are SO ugly, but then I realized they all looked that bad at every store I went to.

      By the way, our local cake shop sells babies a la carte (in three sizes!). Maybe you should check out one of those.

    4. My step-father was from New Orleans, and we would often celebrate everything with food. Mardi Gras was no exception. However, he would buy his king cakes, since he is diabetic (and wouldn't eat any). I always thought that they were gross and ugly to boot. So I am actually really excited to try your recipe (sans colored sugar…sorry I don't think I can do it). Oh and by the way, we tried the Baked Cheesy Chicken Pasta for our Valentine's Day meal…Yummy! I added spinich, and I would recommend it. It reminded me of a dish from Macaroni Grill. So yummy.
      Thanks for all your fabulous ideas! I love it!
      Oh and Happy Valentine's Day, President's Day and Mardi Gras!

    5. I'll give this a try! I check your blog (OBB) and The Pioneer Woman Cooks regularly!! Makes me happy to see we both like her too!!

      Thanks for everything!

    6. I had never even heard of a King Cake until my brother sent me one when he was in New Orleans. I shared it with my college roommates and we FREAKED out when someone bit into a naked plastic baby! haha. Good memories.

      Yours sounds yummy, I am already thinking of a million more uses for that yummy filing!

    7. Thank you for solving one of life's great mysteries! I was very unfamiliar with the King Cake but had heard the term a few times!! It is very festive!

    8. I am so excited you put this recipe on here! I was just telling my husband the other day that I wanted to try baking our own King Cake this year! We live in the 2nd largest Mardi Gras town in Louisiana so this will be AWESOME! Thanks so much!
      And yes, Milk is expensive down here.

    9. as someone who has eaten many king cakes…thank you! i am forwarding this to my sister (who got me hooked on king cakes) and i will be trying this!!!

    10. Thank you! Perfect timing,as I was trying to plan my Mardi Gras celebration for my daycare kiddos tomorrow. This will be way better than some cinnamon rolls in a circle that I try and pass off as King Cake. Now to dig to the back of the pantry and hope there is some almond extract.

    11. Oh we are going to make that. It caught the eye of my daughter so I assuming she is volunteering herself!

    12. We just spent all day getting sunburned for plastic beads and stuffed animals, so I think we will top it off with another King Cake!

    13. I'd never heard of King Cakes until I read your post yesterday. Today I went to the grocery store here in Virginia, (I've only lived here for a year and a half) and guess what I saw? A King cake!! I doubt I would have paid any attention to them (I never noticed them last year) if I hadn't seen your blog.

    14. First up I have to say I love this blog!!! Now I have one question to ask on regards to the milk used in the recipe. Does it have to be whole milk? I never use it really and always use lite. Thx in advance.

    15. hi Sara: i never had a mother who taught me to cook; to bake yes, but not cook. You have become my "tutorial cooking mom". just wanted to say thx
      PS the marzipan carrots are the cutest ever for my Easter carrot cake! 😉
      thx, grandma pam/dawn's mom

    16. These look great! I'll have to try my hand at making my own soon…I live in Mobile, Al (where Mardi Gras was, in fact, invented) and we love them!

    17. I lived in LA when I was in elementary school, we would bring a cake to school, and whoever got the baby had to bring the cake the next day/week. I've been making king cakes, in honor of my time down South-as a kid and a brief stint as an adult, for a few years. I've never made a filled one, so I'm excited to give it a try. In lieu of a plastic baby, I use a pecan, and whoever has the slice with the nut has good luck. My kids think it's great!

    18. So, I live in CA and have nothing to compare this recipe with, but can say that it was VERY good. After I cut and ate my peice, I had to hurry the rest out of the house to the neighbors because I reallt think I could have ate the whole ring by myself.

    19. After living in New Orleans for 11 years, we actually began to think the king cakes didn’t look too bad. Your sense of good taste will be warped by the time you leave there. And, trust me. You’ll wish you had 32 plastic babies when you leave, because if you have to order them on line you’ll have to buy 144. Want me to send you some?

    20. I love, love, love king cakes! And yes, very expensive to buy and even more expensive to ship!!! I’ve never thought of them as ugly bc I grew up with them. Thx for the recipe. I will try this one next mg season. Ps- the king cake has a lot of history and religious symbolism.

    21. Getting the baby also means whomever gets the baby has to make/buy the next King Cake. I know there are bakeries everywhere in Louisiana who make “stuffed” King Cakes, but the best I have ever had were from a little place on the north side of Marksville, LA. They are all to die for!!

    22. This looks, and sounds much better than the one I had in New Orleans! I can’t wait to try it… I still have my little gold naked baby, which awarded me a free dinner…

    23. We moved to Alabama almost two years ago- I COMPLETELY get what you are saying! THe milk is INSANELY expensive and the cream cheese. I am in love with your Beans and Rice and can’t wait to try your other southern recipes. Looking forward to Monday & Tuesday parades filled with flying beads that the snowbirds rip out of little kids hands or grab over their heads-ugh, cups, toys, etc. SO sorry but they are MUCH more exciting than the UT parades …. heee heee…..
      DO you have snowbirds in Louisianna?

      1. WAY better than Utah parades, lol! We don’t have any snowbirds here–maybe they do a little further south (although that area is so expensive that I don’t know if they do or not). It’s normally pretty cold and dreary here in the winter (not THIS winter, thank goodness–it’s been amazing!) and it is not the most exciting area, hahaha!

    24. Made this tonight for my son’s kindergarten class – they’re celebrating Fat Tuesday and I thought it’d be an interesting bit ofculture for them. I sliced a piece of the extra one for my husband while it was still warm, and he said it was one of the best things I’d ever made! Like a giant, filled donut. So, thanks very much for sharing Louisiana culture with a couple Oregonians in such a delicious way.

      Incidentally, I used about 3/4 C pie filling and did a pretty thin glaze while it was still warm, and it was pretty tasty like that. 🙂

    25. I just stumbled on this recipe after pinning your recipe for Dirty Rice (I’m with you … no small organ meats). My hairstylist was just telling me yesterday about King Cakes. I had never heard of them. She was down in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and spent $95 at the bakery on several different kinds. I thought, they must be some amazing cakes! And clearly ones that taste a lot better than they look! LOL

    26. Thank you for this amazing recipe! My dad is from Slidell and so we grew up eating king cake but they were always way too sweet. This one is perfect. I’m not a huge almond extract fan so for the filling I did half almond extract and half vanilla. It was heavenly! Thanks for all your great recipes!

    27. My husband went to school at Tulane for two years before Katrina and gets very nostalgic about his time in New Orleans. Yesterday I completely surprised him by making these King Cakes and your red beans and rice recipe. He said both recipes were the best he’s ever had!

    28. No need to bake up a plastic baby and store his 32 other siblings- tuck a red bean into the cake instead. More traditional, with the benefit of no baby weirdness.

    29. I live in the Cajun part of Texas and have eaten more than my fair share of king cakes. I found your recipe several years ago and it makes the BEST king cake out there. I make it for the Super Bowl every year and it is always a hit. My 6 yo even asked for it as her birthday cake this year lol!

    30. The original version of this recipe made half the amount of dough, but still made 2 large cakes. I’ve been making it for years and I clearly remember making two “double batches” one year in an effort to make four king cakes. Instead I got EIGHT because I forgot it already made two! OOPS? The new version lists double the ingredients, but says it still just makes two cakes. I’m pretty sure you’d get four large cakes using the quantities listed. Either way, it’s a tradition in my family and we live nowhere near New Orleans.

      1. It had been SO LONG since I made king cake, and when I made the recipe as written, I could only get one cake out of the original recipe. But maybe I made it huge, haha! So I changed things. But. I’m planning on re-making them again tomorrow, so we’ll see how things go.

    31. The cake turned out perfectly and delicious! My glaze was grainy and curdled looking, what did I do wrong? It tasted fine, just not the consistency I was hoping for.

      1. That usually happens because of powdered sugar—sifting it after measuring it helps, as well as making sure your powdered sugar is fresh. Hope that helps!!

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