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Mardi Gras King Cake

Recipe Info

Difficulty: Moderate
Mess Level: High
Yield: 12 Servings
Prep Time: 3 hr
Cook Time: 25 min


For the Cake:

  • 1 Cup Milk
  • ½ Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Active, Dry Yeast (or two packets)
  • 3 ¾ Cup AP Flour, Plus More
  • ½ Cup Butter
  • 5 Egg Yolks
  • 1 Egg White
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla (Optional)
  • Zest of one Lemon (Optional)

For the Filling:

  • 8oz Cream Cheese
  • ½ Cup Powdered Sugar
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher Salt

For the Frosting:

  • 3 Cups Powdered Sugar
  • Juice of one Lemon
  • 1-3 Tablespoons Milk
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher Salt

Miscellaneous Items:

  • Purple, Gold, and Green Sanding Sugar
  • 1 Bean or Plastic Baby


  1. Set out the cream cheese to soften.
  2. Get all of your ingredients ready, separate the eggs and reserve one egg white separately, measure all remaining ingredients for the cake and zest the lemon.
  3. Warm the milk to 110 Fahrenheit or comfortable when tested on your wrist, then add to the bowl of a stand mixer along with the yeast, the sugar and 1 Tablespoon of the flour. Stir together gently, then allow the yeast to activate.
  4. Warm the butter until just melted, you don’t want it hot. When the yeast has activated and is bubbly, add the egg yolks, vanilla, lemon zest and then the melted butter.
  5. Mix with the whisk attachment just until the eggs are incorporated. Switch to a dough hook and then add the cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, and salt.
  6. Mix on medium speed with the dough hook until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and climbs up the hook.
  7. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. If it sticks to your hands add more flour a little at a time and knead it until it comes together into a smooth, elastic ball. Be careful not to add a lot of extra flour or it will be tough. Just add what the dough tells you it needs.
  8. Lightly oil a bowl with a neutral oil such as grapeseed. Place the dough ball in the bowl and turn it to coat it in the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free place for two hours or till it doubles in size.
  9. Meanwhile, make the filling. Beat the cream cheese till it’s soft, then with the mixer off, add the powdered sugar and salt. Place a damp towel covering the mixer and bowl and start the mixer slowly, increasing speed as the powdered sugar is mixed.
  10. When the dough has risen, punch it down then turn it onto a lightly, floured work surface. Pat it into a rectangle and use a rolling pin to get it about 30 inches long by 6 inches wide.
  11. Spread the cream cheese filling over the bottom half, leaving an inch of space around the bottom. Fold the top half over and pinch the edges to seal all the way around. Shape it into a circle with the seam side at the bottom. Try and get the cake the same size all the way around so it cooks evenly. Pinch the two ends together to get rid of the seam.
  12. Line a pizza pan with parchment paper and lay the king cake, seam side down on the parchment. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let it rise for 45 minutes.
  13. Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Beat the egg white with one tablespoon of water till frothy, then brush the top and sides of the cake with the egg wash.
  14. Bake for 20-30 minutes until springy and golden brown. Allow to cool on a rack completely before frosting. Before frosting cut a small slit in the bottom of the cake and insert the bean or baby.
  15. To make the frosting, mix together the three cups of powdered sugar, ½ teaspoon of salt and lemon juice. Add milk 1 Tablespoon at a time until it’s the consistency you want. Be careful of adding too much liquid, if the frosting is too runny it will run right off the cake.
  16. When the cake is cooled, frost it to your liking. Then sprinkle the sanding sugar on in sections. Enjoy!

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Savannah Says...

  1. What if my cake is browned but the inside is a little under-cooked?

    1. Try making a thinner dough ring...
      Roll it out longer and be sure it’s the same size all the way around so it cooks evenly. If your cake is too brown but you know you need it to cook longer just loosely cover it with foil for the duration of the baking.
  2. What happens if I kill the yeast?

    1. No bubbles no dice!
      This can happen from liquid that is too hot, adding salt directly to the yeast or if the yeast is old. This is why we check the yeast by activating it with warm milk or water. If it doesn’t bubble after 15 minutes (usually takes 5), throw it out and get fresh.
  3. Where can I find the sanding sugars?

    1. It depends where you live...
      If you live in NOLA likely your local grocery store will have them. Otherwise, check with specialty baking and cookware stores. You can sub yellow for the gold and you can also dye your own sugar with a few drops of food coloring and a Ziploc bag.
  4. How Do I Keep from getting sanding sugar everywhere?

    1. There is only so much you can do, but for best results...
      Put the cake on a cookie sheet before decorating. Keep in mind you’ll want to move it to the serving platter after though. A very large spatula is a good tool for the job and bring the pan as close to the serving platter as possible before moving the cake.

Ramblings of a Line Cook

Making a king cake is so much fun! There is a certain giddy feeling you get from brashly tossing brightly colored sanding sugar onto a cake, it sort of takes you back to being five again. And while there is a lot of history and tradition surrounding a king cake, it is New Orleans based which means that no rules are followed but king cake will be eaten and a celebration will be had!

You should take this to mean that there is no such thing as the perfect king cake. If you want a true feel for New Orleans look up pictures from a king cake competition. You will have the perfectly round king cake, the braided cake, the one topped with so many mardi gras necklaces you’re likely to swallow a bead by mistake, and then there’s the ones shaped kind of like an oval… This I can only assume is because someone got halfway through making their king cake and realized the only pan large enough was a rectangular cookie sheet. And because they are New Orleans born and raised, the funniest looking king cake will be proudly displayed and eaten along with the rest.

From January 6th to Ash Wednesday is Carnival Season and you can find the locals of New Orleans making, baking and eating as many king cakes as they can get their hands on. The king cake is a celebration of Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem following the French Catholic history of New Orleans and either a tiny, plastic baby or a dried bean is hidden in the cake. Whoever finds it has to bring the next king cake or throw the next party. Neat huh?

I personally can’t get over how fun the “royal” colors are on the top. The three colors (of course) stand for something; Purple for justice, Green for faith and Gold for power. And although you may have to do a little hunting to find the right colors of sanding sugar rest assured it’s worth the effort! This king cake is my take on the classic, I think the cream cheese filling adds character and the lemon just brightens everything. But feel free to make it your own, after all following the rules isn’t a very New Orleans thing to do at all…

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