Mardi Gras King Cake

    Posted by  ·  February 19, 2009

    I am intrigued with the  tradition of a King cake to celebrate Mardi Gras.  The King Cake’s circular shape symbolizes the path the three kings took to find Jesus in Bethlehem. The sugar topping is in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple (Justice), gold (Power) and green (Faith).  The colorful sugar topping also represents a jeweled crown in honor of the three Wise Men whom visited Jesus on Epiphany. A plastic baby is hidden in the cake, symbolizes the Christ child. The person who gets the baby is supposed to have good luck for a year and is  to buy the next king cake, or in some cases, host the next king cake party.

    I have never made a King Cake before yesterday.  While I think it turned out well and tasted really good, I have never eaten the real thing! It tasted like a soft cinnamon roll.  If you celebrate Mardi Gras with a King Cake—please give us some details!

    First we had to find a baby King. My husband found them at the cake decorating store, but they probably could have been found at the party store also. It does seem wrong to hind something in a cake that clearly says choking hazard on the package!


    I used Paula Deen’s  recipe.  I did add in some nutmeg and made the dough in my food processor.

    Mardi Gras King Cake from Paula Deen Celebrates!


    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
    2/3 cup evaporated milk
    3/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 envelopes active dry yeast, regular or rapid rise
    3 eggs
    Grated zest of 1 lemon
    1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    6 cups all-purpose flour
    4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
    1 egg white, for glazing

    Cinnamon-Sugar Filling:
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    White Icing:
    2 cups confectioners’ sugar
    2 tablespoons whole milk
    Colored Sugar


    Melt the butter in the microwave in a medium mixing bowl  Add the evaporated milk, 3/4 cup of the sugar, and the salt.  Stir so that the sugar dissolves.  Allow to cool.

    Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water and stir in the remaining teaspoon sugar.  Allow to stand for 5 minutes, until foamy.

    Add the yeast mixture to the butter and milk mixture.  Add the eggs, nutmeg and lemon zest and whisk together vigorously, until well blended. (I did this in the food processor and then added the flour and continued on with next step.)

    (I also did this whole step in my food processor. Once all the flour was added and dough started to come away from the sides I counted to 45 slowly and then stopped and removed the dough and continued on with the recipes.) Or you can whisk in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until you have a thick paste–about 3 cups flour.  Then switch to a wooden spoon and continue adding flour and mixing well.  Do not add more than 6 cups flour, or your cake will be too dense.  When you have added all the flour, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured wooden board and knead it with your hands, which you have dusted with flour, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about a dozen turns.

    Place the dough into a large bowl cooking spray.  Turn the dough to coat all sides with spray.  Cover the bowl with a tea towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

    Make the cinnamon-sugar filling: Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small dish and stir well.
    Punch the dough down and divide the dough in two.  Roll out each half into a 10 by 15 inch rectangle. Brush each rectangle with half of the melted butter and then sprinkle each rectangle with half of the cinnamon-sugar filling mixture.  Roll up along the long end like a jelly roll.  Press the roll together at the seam, sealing with water if necessary.  Wind the two rolls together, forming one thick piece.  On a baking sheet sprayed with vegetable oil cooking spray, form the dough into a circle and seal the ends together.
    Cover with a tea towel and allow the cake to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until it almost doubles in size.

    Don’t forget to hide your baby Jesus!

    king-cake-1 king-cake-2

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Whisk the egg white with 1 tablespoon water.  Brush  the top of the cake with the egg white.  Bake the cake for 35 minutes, until it is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. I had to tent the cake with aluminum foil around the edges to keep from getting too brown before dough was baked in the center.


    Make the white icing: Combine the sugar and milk in a small dish and whisk until smooth.  If the mixture seems too thin, add a little more sugar.  If it won’t drizzle, add a little more milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time.

    Allow the cake to cool for a few minutes on a wire rack.  Drizzle with icing and sprinkle the colored sugar in random patterns over the white icing.

    You can color your own sugar by adding two tablespoons of sugar along with some paste food coloring in a zip lock bag and mixing well with fingers.


    I like to make bread and I always take the easy way out by using my food processor.  If you wanted to make a really simple King Cake that kids can make why not make monkey bread (I would leave out the nuts and raisins) with refrigerator biscuits and hide the baby as you layer the biscuits.

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    1. Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
      I made two of these yesterday, and it was an exercise in patience, that's for sure. King Arthur Flour's instant chat held my hand and that helped tremendously. I had to let my dough rise for hours, and it still didn't really double. Next time, they suggest having the eggs be at room temperature, that may have slowed things down a lot. Also, mine were not done in 35 minutes, maybe because there were 2 sharing oven space? I don't know, but then I let them bake way too long and they were dry.

      Still, the flavor of the dough was wonderful and I will try it again, but not soon. :) I think they'd be wonderful for brunch, minus the colored sugar.

      Also, I try not to heat plastic in cooking at all, we've had some issues with estrogen and I just don't go there, so I just tucked my babies in after they were baked. Worked fine.

      I love your blog.
    2. Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
      I made mine yesterday and posted it with a link to you! Mine was not NEARLY as pretty as yours and it was a little dense and dry...oh, well. It was fun!
    3. Kaylasgrammy
      Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
      Your recipe looks pretty good! I've made several & that's pretty close. I've eaten several different kinds from bakeries, too. I miss all the hoopla! :)
    4. KatieFitz
      Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
      There must be a mistake in your recipe. There doesn't seem to be enough liquid. I had to add close to the entire can of evaporated milk to get it to a soft dough consistency, ie, something that would rise. Make sure you tent the cake after 15 minutes and you may have to reduce the cooking time to 27 minutes.
      • cindylouh
        Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
        I double checked the recipe and it shows the amount of liquid I used. Did you dissolve the yeast in 1/4 warm water? The dough is really dense----and I didn't think it rose very much. I couldn't say mine actually 'doubled' in size. However, it seemed to bake and taste fine. I did have to tent the bread to keep it from getting too brown before the dough was baked.
    5. Ashley
      Tuesday, February 24th, 2009
      I really like the cream cheese filled kind and here is the quick and easy recipe I always use.

      2-8oz packages Cream Cheese, softened
      1/2-1 cup Confectioners' sugar, depending on sweetness desired
      2 eggs, separated
      1 t. vanilla or almond extract
      2 cans (8 oz each) refregerated crescent rolls
      1/2 can pie filling, your choice

      Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat cream cheese, sugar, egg yolks, and extract together until smooth. Remove rolls from cans and arrange pieces around cookie sheet with points toward the center. Push the dough together, leaving the center open. Spread cream cheese mixture on dough. Top with pie filling. Fold dough over mixture and seal. Brush with beaten egg whites. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Drizzle with glaze (Confectioners sugar and milk with a little vanilla) and sprinkle with colored sugar.
    6. Monday, February 23rd, 2009
      your king cake sounds like the original thing! now you can get all kinds of fillings and donut cakes and such. so bad-i really like them all and indulge for mardi gras every year. hope you have a great "fat tuesday"!!
    7. Saturday, February 21st, 2009
      i've had several different "flavors" of king cake. most have had a lemony cream cheese filling, some have tasted like cinnamon rolls, and one very naughty one was filled with chocolate...mmmm

      i'm making one on monday so we can celebrate fat tuesday at work!
    8. Tina
      Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      Your cake is beautiful! I live in Baton Rouge and I know a good King Cake when I see one. It really is a fun and tasty tradition.

      As far as the choking hazard goes, you're could happen I guess, though most people know to "look" for the baby. Lots of bakeries stopped putting the babies in the cakes for that very reason. Now most places just include a little cello bag with a pair of beads, a baby and the history. I guess they figure you can insert the little guy at your own risk.
    9. Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      I have been to New Orleans once, and I would love to go back.

      Your cake looks great! I really want to make one too! Thanks for the inspiration- I'll let you know if I do!
    10. Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      I have visited new orleans, several times and I have friends that have been to Mardi Gras lots, and this sounds like so much fun. Thanks for the great idea. pamela
    11. Susan Ingle
      Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      When I lived in mexico, they had a similar tradition....the Tres Reyes (3 Kings) cake which was served on January 6th, I believe. Whoever got the baby had to host a party during lent I think. The baby sort of reminded me of Casper the Ghost.
    12. Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      Only 1.5 sticks of butter, are you sure this is a Paula Deen recipe?

      Looks great though!
    13. Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      That is so cool
    14. Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      My favorite king cake is filled with a pecan cream cheese filling. The top is colored icing, colored sugar, and more pecans. I like the filling because every king cake I have tried does seem to be dry. One year, I got the uglies baby ever-blue eye shadow and huge red lips!
      I never heard of baking it with the baby in it. Rather, they are inserted from the bottom of the cake when filling is added. I would be afraid of polymer funk, but hey, Nalgene scares me.
      • cindylouh
        Thursday, February 19th, 2009
        Stacy, Do you have a recipe for your cake? That filling sounds great!
    15. Krista
      Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      Never made one and never eaten one. I have a lot of family from new orleans so having not experenced a king cake is a shame.
      With that said I think your looks awesome. Some great pointers about the sugar and amount ~ with that said I think I prefer your cake. It looks like something I wouldn't mind trying vs the completely colored ones I've seen.
    16. Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      King cakes are like cinnamon rolls somewhat. When I make them, I do make the two sections, jellyroll style, but then I join them in a ring, like two halves of the circle or oval. I think they bake better that way. And you need LOTS more sugar on the top. The icing is glue, but you don't really see it. You see lots of the colored sugar, though. :-) Yay for king cakes! We love them. If you like a cream cheese filling, Emeril has a great recipe. I tend to prefer the traditional praline filling, but the cream cheese went over well when I made it for friends.
    17. Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      Wow, you made a beautiful King Cake! I used to live in New Orleans, and during Mardi Gras people were always bringing them into work. If you got the baby in your piece, you had to bring in the King Cake the next day.
    18. Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      Traditional king cakes are oval shaped, much like the shape of a race track. That way the pastry isn't quite as puffy as yours. I'm a retired k teacher. I used jumbo cinnamon rolls in the "wack"cans so that the children could unroll it and twist their own king cakes.( Use parchment paper so that the rolls don't burn) Also, the sugar sprinkled on the top is a finer sugar, not what's in your coffee. It's messy but the children love it!
    19. Sheila
      Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      I have wanted to do this, and I even have the little baby, but I was worried that it would melt inside. You baked it inside and it didn't melt?
      • cindylouh
        Thursday, February 19th, 2009
        Sheila, I didn't have any trouble with the baby melting. It worked great!
    20. Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      The flavor sounds right. Around here (south louisiana) they come with all kinds of different fillings. My husband, a native, prefers the original cinnamon filling. These days, the plastic babies aren't put into the cakes made by professionals due to the choking hazard. The baby is simply set in the box and it's up to the buyer to put it in if they want.
      The first king cake is supposed to be eaten on the Epiphany, or Twelth Night. Twelth Night parties are common around here. He who finds the baby is supposed to host the following year's Twelth Night party.
      I had recently done a post on Mardi Gras on my blog. Check it out if you'd like!
      Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!!
    21. Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      I'm in agreement with water works. Most bakeries tend to use less icing and way more sugar. The entire top of each section usually has a crust of sugar. In recent years, filled king cakes have gained in popularity. Our family's favorite is the strawberry cream cheese from Paul's Pastry. I prefer the traditional cinnamon, though. Most of the bakeries known for their king cakes sell them online. Haydel's, Gambino's, Randazzo's are local favorites and Paul's Pastry when in Southern Mississippi. Taste and compare!
    22. Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      What I want to know is - who found the plastic baby? :)
    23. Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      That is so cool! I've never heard of a king cake before - learned something new!
    24. Hannah
      Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      I've only had store bought King Cakes and they do taste like cinnamon rolls really with lots of sugary icing and sugar on top. Nowadays, the store bought ones often just come with the baby in the package and you hide it yourself by just sticking it through the bottom somewhere. I guess they don't want the responsibility of someone choking on it.

      I love Mardi Gras and King Cake is just one great part of it!

      P.S. Bluebell has King Cake flavored ice cream now which I think is delicious!
    25. gemgirl
      Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      Thank you for the historyon the king cake. I was very interested in seeing the finished product. I also like to make bread and do so for all holidays.
    26. water works
      Thursday, February 19th, 2009
      I am from New Orleans orginially, but now live elsewhere. I miss the food! I make King Cakes every year for my kids, our annual party, classrooms, you name it. We love it around here. Your's looks great! I usually add more colored sugar, but that's just me. You are correct that it should taste like a soft cinnamon roll. As an interesting side note, the "baby" was originally a lucky bean. Only in the last few decades has it changed to a baby. Enjoy yours...I will be baking today for the party this weekend.