A Mardi Gras King Cake is an essential part of the festivities! This classic version features brioche-style bread filled with cinnamon. It’s delicious!
When I visited Louisiana for my first Mardi Gras a number of years ago, my friend who I was staying with had picked up a couple of King Cakes. I had never heard of a King Cake. I assumed it was something similar to birthday cake–and I was totally wrong! King Cake is a Louisiana specialty that shows up by the dozens during Mardi Gras season.
Just like gumbo, there are probably hundreds of variations and ways to make King Cake. I personally prefer the cinnamon-filled version, but flavored cream cheese is also very common. Either way, after I moved to Louisiana, I always looked forward to Mardi Gras as I knew it meant the arrival of these delicious treats. (I might have even ordered a king cake for my birthday one year–and my birthday is nowhere near Mardi Gras!)
No matter the style or filling of your King Cake, these cakes are always decorated with the three colors of Mardi Gras: Purple, Green, and Gold (which represent justice, power, and faith). King Cakes are typically decorated with either glaze or colored sanding sugar–I personally prefer the glazed version, but either way works just fine! I did sprinkle my entire cake with a little bit of white sanding sugar when done for that sparkly look.
How to make a Mardi Gras King Cake
For the Cake
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 2¼ tsp instant dry yeast i.e. one packet
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup milk
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
For the Filling
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 6 Tbsp stick unsalted butter melted
- 1 cup chopped pecans
For the Glaze
- 3 cups confectioners sugar
- 5 tbsp milk
- green yellow, red, and blue food coloring
For the Cake
- Sift the flour into bowl of a countertop mixer.
- Add the sugar, yeast, salt, cinnamon, and egg to the bowl.
- In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter until melted and warm (just warm, not hot!)
- Pour the liquid mixture into the mixer and, using a dough hook, mix for 2 minutes on low speed.
- Continue mixing on medium speed for 5-6 minutes.
- Cover and place bowl in a warm (~80 degrees) place for approximately 2 hours, or until dough has doubled in size.
- Turn the dough onto a countertop and roll into a 36″ by 8″ rectangle. (If you dust the countertop with a small amount of flour, it will keep the dough from sticking.)
- Spread the cinnamon filling evenly across the dough.
- Starting with one long edge, roll the dough until you have a 36″ roll of dough.
- Working down the long edge, seal the dough so that none of the cinnamon mixture escapes during baking. (Tip: Rub a small amount of water on the edges that you join together. This helps create a tight seal.)
- Attach the two ends of the dough together to create a large oval shaped ring.
- Cover dough loosely and place in a warm place for approximately 2 more hours, or until dough has doubled in size again.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until top of cake is golden brown in color.
- Let cake cool slightly and then decorate the cake with the three colors of glaze.
For the Filling
- Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir until well-combined.
For the Glaze
- Using 3 medium-sized bowls, measure 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar into each.
- Add 1-1.5 tablespoons of milk to each bowl and stir. (If mixture is too sticky, add an extra 1/2 teaspoon of milk. If it is too loose, add an extra 1/8 cup of confectioner’s sugar).
- Once the mixture reaches a desirable consistency, add several drops of food coloring to create the traditional purple, green, and gold colors.
Finally, no king cake is complete without a baby inside of the cake. Yes, a baby. Once the cake is baked, a small plastic baby is inserted (from underneath) into the cake. According to tradition, whoever gets the slice with the baby then hosts the next King Cake party–this great idea ensures that King Cake parties continue throughout the entire Mardi Gras season. (King cake babies are available on Amazon!)
Note: The baby is not baked with the cake as it would melt! Also, you should explain this tradition to your guests so that they are on the lookout for the baby.