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Easy King Cake recipe for Mardi Gras at home

King Cake slice that shows the cinnamon roll swirl

Ready to let the good times roll? Here’s my take on how to make an easy King Cake for Mardi Gras for those us who can’t head on down to Bourbon Street. This Louisiana-inspired dessert is a fun treat to bake for your family and friends to get into the Mardi Gras spirit at home. And yep, there’s usually a plastic baby hidden inside for one lucky person to find. We’ll get to that part in a bit.

King Cake with green, yellow, and purple decorations Mardi Gras
King Cake with green, yellow, and purple sprinkles for Mardi Gras

What is a King Cake?

A King Cake is a sweet yeast bread from New Orleans that people eat during the Carnival season. While you can buy it online from a New Oreleans bakery such as Haydel’s Bakery (or often at your local grocery store), it’s super easy to bake and decorate a fresh King Cake yourself at home.

My easy take on a traditional King Cake recipe

Traditional King Cakes are more like sweet yeasted breads than crumbly cake. Some of the New Orleans bakeries add yummy fillings like mascarpone whipped cream, blueberries, cheesecake, lemon, crunchy pecan praline caramel, and more creative fillings. My take on the king cake keeps things simple with a cinnamon sugar filling in an easy, round circle shape. I actually made a half recipe of my mom’s famous Swedish Tea Ring cinnamon roll wreath and used a neat trick with a Ball jar to make sure this smaller size keeps its shape while proofing.

See also: “Snow Day Scones” easy berry scone recipe >

Using a ball jar to help a King Cake keep its shape while proofing

When should I make and eat a King Cake?

You can make and eat King Cake during the Carnival season which begins on January 6 (the feast of the Epiphany) and ends on Mardi Gras Day, which is the day before Ash Wednesday.

How do you hide a baby in a King Cake?

Apparently, the baby used to be made out of porcelain. Today, many babies are made from plastic so personally I do not bake it. Instead, I recommend putting the baby into the cake after it’s baked and cooled. Simply make a slit on the bottom of the cake and tuck the baby inside so people won’t know where it is when cutting.

King cake sliced to show cinnamon roll swirl
King cake iced with purple, green, and yellow sprinkles

King Cake for Mardi Gras

Norma Beymer
Easy King Cake recipe for Mardi Gras with cinnamon sugar filling, icing, and optional sprinkles (and yes, you can add a plastic baby)
Prep Time 1 hr
Resting Time 3 hrs
Total Time 4 hrs
Course Dessert
Cuisine Baking

Ingredients
  

King Cake

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water (not hot!)
  • 1 package yeast 2-1/4 teaspoons
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2-1/2-3 cups flour

Filling

  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2+1/8 cups sugar
  • 4 tbsp butter

Icing

  • 2 tsp water
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar sifted
  • Purple, green, and yellow food coloring optional
  • Sprinkles optional

Instructions
 

King Cake Dough

  • Scald milk (see my detailed instructions). Stir in sugar and butter until melted. Cool to lukewarm, about 110 degrees.
  • Put lukewarm water in a large bowl and sprinkle yeast on top.
  • Add milk and 2 beaten eggs and mix.
  • Add salt and 2 cups of flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in remaining flour one cup at a time.
  • When it begins to form a ball, put it onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.
  • Place in a greased bowl. Cover with a wet towel. Rest 1-1/2 hours until doubled in size.
  • Punch down and roll into a 14″ x 18″ rectangle and brush with butter, leaving 1" un-buttered on all sides.
  • Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on top of the dough.
  • Place a Ball Jar or ramekin in the middle of your baking dish. Roll up from one end and bend into a circle around the jar, tucking ends together.
  • Cover with a damp towel and allow to double in size. See my instructions for a special tip.
  • Bake 25-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven until browned. Remove the jar from the center.
  • If you're adding a plastic baby, cut a slit on the bottom and tuck the baby inside after the king cake is baked and cooled.

Icing

  • Mix powdered sugar, lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of water and mix.
  • Continue mixing in the rest of the water until it reaches a drizzing consistency.
  • Drizzle on top of the king cake and decorate with sprinkles. Alternatively, you can dye the icing with food coloring before drizzling.

How to make a New Oreleans-inspired King Cake for the Carnival season

Step 1: Follow my instructions for making the dough.

This is the same process as making my mom’s famous Swedish Tea ring dough so if you want more help on how to make the dough itself then go over to that recipe where my mom will walk you through it step-by-step.

King cake dough in a bowl

Step 2: Roll the dough into a rectangle

I rolled my dough to be about 13″ long and 9″ wide. Yep, I used a ruler but you can wing it.

Yeasted sweet bread dough rolled into a rectangle

Step 3: Spread softened butter onto the dough

As you can see, I should have let my butter soften a bit more before I spread it. Softened butter is easier to spread. I got a little impatient but hey, it still tasted great in the end. Spread the butter so that it’s about 1″ away from all sides of the edges.

Making a cinnamon roll King Cake

Step 4: Sprinkle cinnamon sugar onto the butter

Mix the cinnamon with the sugar in a bowl and then spoon it onto the dough leaving about 1″ on all sides without any cinnamon. Leaving a bit  makes it easier for the dough to stick together when you roll it.

Making a cinnamon roll King Cake

Step 5: Roll the dough into a log shape

Roll the dough up into a log shape. You can see how my edges weren’t lined up perfectly but it still worked great. Some people insert the plastic baby at this point. Personally, I think it’s a little sketchy to bake a plastic baby into something edible. Instead, I recommend inserting the baby after you bake and cool the King Cake. But if you really want to bake the plastic baby inside, this is the time to add it.

Rolling cinnamon roll King Cake dough

Step 6: Shape the dough log into a circle

Place an oven-safe Ball jar or round ramekin in the center of a white ceramic circle baking plate. Grease or butter the outside of the Ball jar or ramekin. Then wrap the dough log around the ball jar and seal the ends together. The Ball jar (or ramekin) will keep your circle from closing in the center when the dough rises.

Using a ball jar to help a cinnamon roll wreath keep its shape

Step 7: Let the dough rise until doubled in size

Here’s a neat trick for letting the dough rise: Lower your oven racks to the middle rack and bottom rack. Do not turn the oven on. Cover your king cake with slightly damp dish rag; the Ball jar will help hold it up so the rags aren’t touching the dough. Now, put a Pyrex baking dish filled with boiling water from a kettle on your lower rack. Close the oven door and let the dough rise. Again, do not turn on your oven; the boiling water is all you need for warmth. Let the dough rise for 45 minutes and check on its size; you may or may not need to let it go longer until it has doubled in size. And yes, the oven at our rental is well-used, ha!

How to proof cinnamon roll bread in the oven using boiled water

Here’s what the dough looks like when it’s doubled in size.

Using a ball jar to help a cinnamon roll wreath keep its shape
Using a ball jar to help a cinnamon roll wreath keep its shape

Step 8: Bake the King Cake

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes until browned. Let cool.

Using a ball jar to help a King Cake keep its shape while proofing

Step 9: Remove the Ball jar from the center and add the plastic baby

Carefully remove the Ball Jar or ramekin from the center of your King Cake. It should slide out easily because you greased it. Add the plastic baby by lifting the king cake, making a slit in the bottom and adding the plastic baby inside.

Removing a ball jar from a baked cinnamon roll wreath

Step 10: Ice the King Cake

Mix the powdered sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and 1 teaspoon of water. Add up to 1 teaspoon additional water until the icing reaches drizzling consistency.

Making icing for a King Cake

You can choose to add food coloring to your icing or decorate with sprinkles like I did. Clean up your plate using a paper towel. Let the good times roll!

Decorating a King Cake for Mardi Gras

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Be sure to pin my easy King Cake recipe

Easy King cake recipe for Mardi Gras

And be sure to see more of my easy cakes.

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