Introduction

A tradition since the late 1800s, king cake is a sweetened bread, shaped into a ring and decorated in green, yellow and purple (the official colors of Mardi Gras). Hidden inside the seasonal cake is a coveted prize in the form of a small figure of a baby. Once made of gold, but more commonly plastic these days, the reveler who finds the trinket in the cake will enjoy good luck in the year ahead and will share their good fortune by providing a king cake at the next Mardi Gras party.

If you found the baby in the cake last year or you’re kicking off a new tradition, this recipe for an easy-to-make king cake will set the tone in sweet style at any Mardi Gras celebration. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Step 1

Activate Yeast

Despite its name, king cake is actually a yeast-raised bread. Combine 1 cup of milk and 1 tablespoon yeast in a stand mixer bowl. Although most yeast is stable, it is easy to see the yeast is active as it slowly begins to bubble in the milk.

Step 2

Mix Cake Ingredients

Add 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup dry milk, 4-1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup melted butter and 2 eggs to the mixing bowl and knead using a dough hook until a soft, supple dough forms.

Step 3

Let the Dough Rise

Transfer dough to an oiled vessel, cover and allow to rise 60 minutes until puffy and nearly double in size. 

Step 4

Mix Filling

For filling, combine two 8-oz packages cream cheese, 1 egg, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and beat until smooth. 

Step 5

Roll Out Dough and Spread Filling

Punch dough down on a lightly oiled surface and roll into a rectangle roughly 24” x 7”. Spread filling over dough from end to end, leaving an inch or so of space along each long edge. 

Step 6

Encase Filling

Fold dough in half lengthwise and pinch along edge to seal. 

Step 7

Make a Ring

With pinched seam down, form a ring with the dough and pinch the ends together. Place on a greased baking tray and allow to rise 90 minutes. 

Step 8

Coat With Egg Wash

Lightly whisk 1 egg and 1 tablespoon of water together to make an egg wash and brush over the surface of the cake. The egg wash will give the bread a rich, brown sheen and is an easy way to make just about any bread prettier.

Step 9

Bake

In a 350 degree oven, bake 50 minutes. If browning too quickly, tent with aluminum foil for the last 15 minutes. Remove from oven, let rest 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. 

Step 10

Hide the Baby

Once cake has cooled completely, turn it over and press plastic or porcelain baby into the cake. Traditionally, the baby is baked into the cake, but with concerns over heating plastics and the possible choking hazard of a foreign object in food, placing the baby underneath the cake after baking has become a common solution. 

Step 11

Add Icing

For icing, combine 3 cups powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 3+ tablespoons milk and whisk until smooth. Spread over the top of the cake.

Step 12

Sprinkle With Mardi Gras Colors

Before the icing hardens, dust with alternating green, purple and gold sugars to complete the cake.

Let your guests know to keep an eye out for the baby in the cake. Whoever finds it is said to find good fortune in the days to come and is also expected to provide the king cake at the next party. Be sure to share this recipe with them!