King cake is a traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras dessert. It’s like a coffee cake with filling, colored sugar, and icing. This recipe for king cake is a must-have at any Mardi Gras party!
What is King Cake?
The king cake for Mardi Gras is basically a coffee cake ring with colored sugar and icing. This version is filled with cinnamon cream cheese. You can also use your favorite pie filling for even more flavor!
King cake, also known as three kings cake, is one of the most iconic Mardi Gras desserts, and a staple during the season. The celebration runs from Epiphany (January 6th) to the beginning of Lent, which is the day after Mardi Gras.
As a Southern California gal, I had no idea what king cake was. It is practically nonexistent in Southern California, at least the Southern, Mardi Gras version.
My very Southern girlfriend, Sandy, from Pascagoula, Mississippi, sent me one from a very famous bakery in New Orleans, during Mardi Gras.
I fell in love with it and have been making this recipe for Mardi Gras king cake ever since!
Mardi Gras King Cake in Other Cultures
Many cultures and countries celebrate Mardi Gras or Carnavale with a version of the king cake. There is a Mexican version called Rosca de Reyes (Three Kings) which is served on Epiphany, and France celebrates with a Galette des Rois.
In the south, Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday,” is a season and not just a day like it is in the rest of the country. In preparation for Lent, many households would rid their pantries of eggs, sugar, and butter, thus creating decadent pastries.
Along with the king cake, other cultures celebrate with similar sweets, like these Italian bow tie cookies that are popular in Italy.
In England, Shrove Tuesday is celebrated with thin pancakes. And of course, we know how popular Carnival is in Brazil!
What Do The Colors On The King Cake Mean?
The colored sugar for a traditional recipe for king cake includes, and represents, purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power).
Traditionally a small plastic baby, symbolizing the baby Jesus, is tucked into the cooked cake for good luck. The recipient of the baby is responsible for baking the next King Cake.
Can The King Cake Dough Be Made In Advance?
Yes! Once I discovered Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Hertzberg and Francois, I adapted their Brioche dough for my King Cake.
Make the king cake dough one day (or up to 4 days) before and the cake the next. Here’s the Fat Tuesday king cake dough recipe.
Can I Use Pre-Made Dough to Make King Cake?
No. Unfortunately, this is a brioche or sweetened dough. Although it’s not particularly sweet, there is some honey in the dough which you won’t find in store-bought bread dough.
Although this king cake recipe makes one large cake, you could use it to make two smaller mini king cakes. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
How to Make a Fat Tuesday King Cake
Roll the Fat Tuesday cake dough out into a long thin rectangle, about 1/4″ thick.
Spread filling to within 1″ all around. Roll into a long log lengthwise and form into an oval or circle. Pinch the ends of the dough together and tuck it under.
Let it cool completely before drizzling the glaze over the top. Sprinkle with alternating bands of gold, green and purple sanding sugar.
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Cream Cheese Filling
- Scald the milk. Add to standing mixer. The butter should cool the milk enough to activate the yeast, but If you’re not sure, test the temperature using a thermometer. It should be between 105 and 110 degrees F. Add butter, honey, salt and yeast. Add eggs and mix until blended.
- Add the flour slowly, until dough comes together in a ball.
- Place dough in a large bowl and cover. Allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and collapses, approximately 2 hours.
- Dough is ready to use at this point, but can also be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Allow the dough to sit at room temperature for about 15 for easier rolling.
- Meanwhile, make the filling. In a mixer combine cream cheese, sugars, vanilla and cinnamon until combined.
Finishing the King Cake
- On a lightly floured board, roll dough into a long, thin rectangle approximately 12″ x 18″.
- Spread filling up to 1" from sides of dough. Roll dough lengthwise away from you.
- Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Tucking ends under to form an oval. Cover loosely with a clean cloth and let rise in a warm spot until double, about 45 minutes.
- Bake at 375 degrees F. for 35-40 minutes, or until deep golden brown. The bottom of the bread will sound hollow when tapped.
- For glaze, combine confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and water until thick drizzle consistency.
- Allow to cool on a wire rack to room temperature. Tuck a small plastic baby into the underside of the cake. Drizzle or spread glaze over the top and sprinkle with alternating bands of colored sugar.
- Use a thermometer for best results.
- Dough should be shiny and smooth. If dough is too sticky add additional flour 1 Tablespoon at a time.
What Else Can You Serve at a Mardi Gras Party?
In addition to Fat Tuesday king cake, you can take your Mardi Gras celebration to the next level with these suggestions.
If Mardi Gras king cake doesn’t fill your need for sweets, and you can’t go to New Orleans, how about making classic Beignets?