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.

overhead shot mardi gras king cake

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.

mini mardi gras king cake close up

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.

king cake dough ingredients

Combine milk,

pouring milk

sugar,

pouring sugar

and oil

pouring 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.

adding yeast

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.

soft dough

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

risen dough

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

dough and baking powder

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.

mixed dough

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.

1 large king cake

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

king cake filling

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.

shaping mini king cakes

Lay one snake on top of the other,

shaping mini king cakes 2

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

shaping mini king cakes 3

then tie the other dough snake into a knot.

shaping mini king cakes 4

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

shaping mini king cakes 5

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.

brushing butter on king cakes

Sprinkle generously with cinnamon sugar (recipe below).

king cake dough

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.

baked mini king cakes

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. 

mini mardi gras king cake

mini mardi gras king cakes

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mini mardi gras king cake

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.

     

     

     

     

    50 comments

    1. 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

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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!

    5. 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.

    6. 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!!!

    7. 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.

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