King Cake

February 23rd, 2009 by megan · 28 Comments

King Cake for Mardi Gras

King Cake for Mardi Gras

One of my closest friends is from New Orleans, and last year we made King Cake together to celebrate Mardi Gras. She has since moved to Seattle, but I miss her and thought that I’d make King Cake again this year, in honor of her and of New Orleans. King Cake is basically a type of brioche, usually iced and decorated with sugar in the colors of Mardi Gras (green, purple, and gold). My friend, being a King Cake purist, refused to entertain the idea of stuffing the cake with what are apparently now-common fillings like cream cheese, and I have to say that I think she’s right – the cake is sweet, rich, and delicious enough without the addition of heavy fillings. She proclaimed our version New Orleans-y and I believed her – given the fact that I’d never had a King Cake before!

Since the 1930s, a New Orleans tradition has been to insert a baby doll trinket into the cake as a representation of the baby Jesus or, as some report, simply because one New Orleans bakery accidentally received an impossibly large shipment of tiny plastic baby dolls. Other traditional items put into the cake for good luck include pecans and beans. If you want to insert a bean, pecan, or especially a plastic baby doll, do it after the cake has baked and cooled.

This recipe is adapted from one on Fabulous Foods.

Happy Mardi Gras!

King cake before icing and sugaring commenced

King cake before icing and sugaring commenced


For the cake:
2 tablespoons instant yeast
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 teaspoons (divided)
1/2 cup warm water (110ºF)
4 cups all purpose flour (plus potentially more for the dough)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk, warmed slightly
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the egg wash:
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk

For the icing and topping:
3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3-4 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Purple, gold, and green colored sugar

Special Equipment: A stand mixer


For the cake:

  1. Combine yeast, 2 teaspoons sugar, and warm water in a small bowl. Set bowl in a warm place until the mixture starts to bubble up and doubles in volume, about 10 minutes. (Discard mixture and start over if yeast doesn’t bubble. Sorry!)
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, lemon zest, nutmeg, and kosher salt together. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast mixture, egg yolks, remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, and warm milk. Using the dough hook, gradually add the flour mixture, then the softened butter until combined. Knead dough, adding flour a tablespoon at a time (if necessary) until the dough is smooth, shiny, elastic, and pulls away from the sides of the mixer bowl – about 10 minutes.
  4. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray and transfer dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Butter a large baking sheet, or line the baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper.
  6. Punch down dough. Give it a good punch or two; it feels kind of good. Sprinkle the dough with the cinnamon and form into a cylinder, transfer the cylinder to the baking sheet, then twist the cylinder into a circle. Pinch the ends of the circle together to seal completely.
  7. Loosely cover the dough with oiled plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft free place to rise again; about 45 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Combine the 1 tablespoon milk and the beaten egg for the egg wash.
  9. Brush sides and top of the cake with egg wash. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown on top. If it begins to over brown, cover with tinfoil.
  10. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.
Forming the king cake ring

Forming the king cake ring

For the icing and topping:

  1. Combine the sifted confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and water until the mixture is smooth. Add more water or lemon juice if the mixture is too thick.
  2. Spread icing on the cake and immediately sprinkle the colored sugar on the cake in alternating rows.


MsGourmet Feb 23, 2009 at 1:22 am

I just showed my 3yr old the photo of your Madi Gras cake and she said she wants to know if she can have a ‘rainbow’ cake like that!

nina Feb 23, 2009 at 6:12 am

I’ll have chunks of the unsugared bread, but that is just because I like things simple. The Madi Gras however is not simple so it calls for color!

Sara Feb 23, 2009 at 8:29 am

Great looking cake.

I’ve heard of baking a square of chocolate into a cake for mardi gras before and the person who gets that piece wins something…or something like that.

Natasha - 5 Star Foodie Feb 23, 2009 at 10:15 am

What a gorgeous king cake! Happy Mardi Gras!

Joan Nova Feb 23, 2009 at 10:37 am

It’s so festive and colorful.

megan Feb 23, 2009 at 10:42 am

The sugar and the icing is totally over the top! But that’s what Mardi Gras is for!

Actually, if you get the baby in your slice, you’re supposed to buy (or make??) the King Cake for next year.

Happy Fat Tuesday, everyone!

elra Feb 23, 2009 at 11:18 am

This is the most beautiful bread I’ve ever seen. I really like the colored sugar sprinkle on top. It makes this cake look so happy. Perfect for the occasion.

Marc @ NoRecipes Feb 23, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Love the purist approach, and that you didn’t skimp on the sugar!

gastroanthropologist Feb 23, 2009 at 5:29 pm

That king cake looks so mardi gras with those colors! I love the smell of brioche fresh from the oven. The addition of nutmeg and cinnamon in your dough is great.

Daily Spud Feb 23, 2009 at 6:47 pm

That just looks fantastically festive. Love the multi-coloured sugars – very New Orleans, very Mardi Gras!

The Duo Dishes Feb 23, 2009 at 8:11 pm

The cake just screams party time. All those great colors! It’s sure to taste as good as it looks, if not better.

Abby @ mangerlaville Feb 23, 2009 at 10:53 pm

This looks amazing and very authentic. I wish I could have some.

megan Feb 24, 2009 at 9:55 am

Come over for a slice! It’s hard to tell in the pictures, but the cake is HUGE! I’m going to be eating it for breakfast for at least the next week.

OysterCulture Feb 24, 2009 at 4:01 pm

The cake looks incredible, brioche is one of my favorits and this certainly looks like it takes the cake (pardon the pun) I love the colors, you can’t help but grin when you look at it.

Rosa Feb 24, 2009 at 5:49 pm

So pretty! This King’s Cake looks fantastic and scrumptious!



Diana Feb 25, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Megan-that cake is breathtakingly beautiful. Just looking at it makes me happy :]. I think you’d win Top Chef in New Orleans with that one. Actually you’d win anyway. I just sent Daniele a link to your Jasmine Madeleines. Great photo too :]. xo

megan Feb 25, 2009 at 11:52 pm

Did you see the King Cake on Top Chef tonight! I was so excited!

Jude Feb 26, 2009 at 12:08 am

Just saw top chef where they featured King Cake so I’m definitely hankering for a slice right now. Gotta love the colors on top 🙂

Diana Feb 26, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Yes I saw it later last night and I immediately thought of you :]. The cake on the show was more typical of King Cakes I’ve seen before in that the colors were über-bright. The first thing that struck me when I saw your cake were your colors-somehow subtle yet deep and bright at the same time. I know you found some magic sweet dust there :] So pretty.

megan Feb 26, 2009 at 4:52 pm

I think it’s the quality of the colored sugar I used, plus an extremely heavy hand in icing and sugaring, plus the fact that I don’t use a flash when I photograph! 🙂

jessie Mar 3, 2009 at 3:21 pm

holy crap! viva o carnaval!
can you please elaborate on how to make/where to procure the quality colored sugar?
and maybe also about how good it feels to punch the dough….

megan Mar 3, 2009 at 3:29 pm

I believe I procured my fancy colored sugar at A Cook’s Companion on Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn, which has the added bonus of being a) next to Sahadi, the most wonderfulest middle eastern store and b) next to Damascus Bakery, the most wonderfulest middle eastern bakery (who make the best meat pies). Anyhoo, the sugar is a brand called “CK Products” and it’s their sanding sugar that I used.

Punching dough makes me feel good. Is that a little sick?

Zom Feb 14, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Well, this is hands down the best pastry I’ve ever made. The dough was gorgeous and handled like a dream, no stand mixer necessary. I’m imagining the cream cheese and fruit filling possibilities and drooling.

Thank you so much for sharing such an awesome recipe and your beautiful photos.

Natalie Feb 16, 2010 at 8:21 pm

So I was making this for a Mardi Gras party this year, and I didn’t see when to put in the other half cup of sugar. I assumed when you mix the yokes and the flour, but I wasn’t sure if I actually missed the direction or I am just scatter-brained and overlooked it.

megan Feb 16, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Hm – Natalie, you’re right – the 1/2 cup goes in when you mix the yolks and flour. Thanks for the catch, I’ll fix…

yazmine Feb 24, 2010 at 12:24 pm

i want me ah king cake rite nah mane 4 real

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