The BEST Mardi Gras King Cake (Easy Recipe!) (2024)

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No Mardi Gras celebration is complete without a colorful Mardi Gras King Cake. Just one bite of this yeast cake with sweet cinnamon sugar filling will prove why this is the BEST king cake recipe and a must-have for any Mardi Gras celebration!

The BEST Mardi Gras King Cake (Easy Recipe!) (1)

King cake is a circle or oval-shaped sweet yeast bread that sometimes contains a filling (traditionally a cinnamon filling, but sometimes a cream cheese filling) and is usually decorated with vibrant purple, green, and gold sugar or icing.

The roots of this fun treat can be traced back to Europe. However, the current New Orleans version reflects many differences that make it a truly American cake – and experience!

What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French. This unique celebration happens right before Lent (a six-week-long religious fast before Easter) starts.

In stark contrast to Lent, which promotes denying yourself as a way to get closer to God, Mardi Gras is all about indulgence!

Carnival celebrations start on January 6th (aka., the Christian feast of Epiphany or King’s Day or Three King’s Day), the date marking the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Mardi Gras ends on Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday & the first day of Lent).

It may be called “fat Tuesday,” but in New Orleans, the Carnival season starts January 6th and can last anywhere from 4-8 weeks, depending on when Easter falls (which determines when Lent starts).

What is a king cake?

Think of a King Cake as a variation on cinnamon roll dough, which I used as inspiration for this traditional Mardi Gras King Cake. In other words, a King Cake is basically a giant cinnamon roll that’s twisted or braided into a circle (that represents a crown), frosted with delicious icing, and decorated in the traditional colors of Mardi Gras with purple, green, and gold sugar.

Eating king cake, a messy, breaded treat, is a major Mardi Gras tradition that begins on January 6 and is enjoyed through Mardi Gras.

Of course, you don’t need to live in Louisiana to enjoy this Mardi Gras King Cake. We live in Colorado and love the tradition!

Up until this year, we got our King Cakes from a local bakery that specializes in pastries. Yum! But I wanted to try making a homemade King Cake myself.

Picture sweet roll dough that’s braided, baked in a circle shape, and decorated with the Mari Gras colors: purple, green, and gold. It’s basically a braided cinnamon roll in the shape of a crown and ready to party!

What’s more, a traditional King Cake has a tiny, plastic baby figurine hidden inside the cake.

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The Cultural Significance of King Cake

The tradition of the King Cake plays a central role in the Mardi Gras season. In its swathes of green, purple, and gold, this circular pastry doesn’t just fill the air with the smell of sweet brioche—it’s also steeped in symbolism.

Green signifies faith, purple stands for justice, and gold reflects power, all paying homage to the regal visit of the three kings.

The extra special part about the King Cake is a small figurine, often representing the Christ child, that’s hidden within the layers of fluffy dough and waits to be discovered by one lucky person.

The tradition around this tiny treasure is two-fold: the finder becomes king or queen for the day AND they have the honor of hosting next year’s celebration (and providing the King Cake!).

Finding the Mardi Gras King Cake baby can bring a touch of good luck when the figurine is found in a slice of cakeOR, as some believe, may bring bad luck if the plastic baby is inadvertently sliced.

(my kids hoot and holler and agonize over which slice of King Cake to take!)

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How To Make The Best Mardi Gras King Cake Recipe

This is the perfect recipe for your celebration! Eat your heart out as you indulge in this Mardi Gras!

Equipment Needed

Mardi Gras King Cake Ingredients Needed

Dough:

  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 packet instant rise yeast
  • 1⁄4 cup melted butter
  • 1⁄4 cup granulated sugar + 1tbsp, separated
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1⁄2 tsp salt
  • 4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp olive oil

Filling:

  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped pecans

Icing:

  • 1.5 cup powdered sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoons milk
  • 1⁄2 tsp vanilla
  • Colored sugar for the top of the cake

NOTE: For more recipe details, please refer to the handy printable recipe card at the bottom of the post!

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Easy King Cake Recipe Instructions

Ok, heads up. This recipe looks long and complicated, but I promise that it’s really an easy recipe! Just follow these simple step-by-step instructions, and you’ll enjoy homemade King Cake in practically no time!

If you want a quicker version, try these Mardi Gras cupcakes!

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Step 1

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees to provide a warm spotto rise your dough.

Step 2

Remove your eggs from the fridge and place them into a bowl of warm water for 5 mins to bring them up to room temperature.

Step 3

Add warm milk, active dry yeast, and 1 Tbsp sugar to a bowl and stir with a fork or whisk. Let it sit for 5-10 mins.

NOTE: If the yeast does not begin to bubble or grow in size, throw it out and start over.

Step 4

After 10 mins, pour yeast mixture, eggs, melted butter into the bottom of your KitchenAid mixer – or whisk by hand.

Step 5

Mix until combined, then add your dry ingredients (sugar, salt, and flour).

Use your dough hook attachment and mix on medium speed until well incorporated.

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Step 6

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead* for 5-7 mins.

Step 7

After the dough ball is nice and smooth, place 2 tbsp olive oil in the bottom of a large bowl and place dough on top.

Cover with a kitchen towel and let your dough rise in a warm place (preferably near the oven) for 60 mins.

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Step 8

After 60 mins, punch dough down to release the air.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead once again for 1-2 mins.

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Step 9

Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 20 inches long.

Step 10

Cinnamon Filling – Brush on softened butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Cover the entire dough.

Sprinkle on pecans (this is optional)

Cream Cheese Filling – Beat the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in a bowl until smooth.

Step 11

Tightly roll the dough longways, in a similar fashion to a jelly roll.

Tip: If you need to use a bench scraper because your dough is sticking, use one.

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Step 12

Transfer your Mardi Gras king cake dough to a parchment-lined baking dish. Bring the two ends together in a circle or oval shape and seal with water or milk.

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Step 13

Cover and let rise for an additional 60 mins.

Brush with milk before baking. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25-30 mins or until golden brown.

Note: if you use a cream cheese filling, add an extra 1-2 minutes of cook time.

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Step 14

Let the cake cool completely before adding frosting – about 25-30 mins.

How To Decorate Your Classic King Cake

To make the glaze, combine powdered sugar, milk (or water), and vanilla in a bowl. Stir until smooth. Icing should be thick but pourable.

Traditionally a plastic baby is added to the cake at this point. Cut a small slit into the inside or outer side of the dough and slide in the plastic baby.

Drizzle or pour glaze over the King cake. Sprinkle with green, yellow, and purple sanding sugar!

Serve and enjoy!

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Mardi Gras King Cake Recipe Notes & Tips

  • To knead, use the taco method. Fold over and press together. Fold over and press together.
  • Brush on the butter melted or softened. Mix the butter with the brown sugar and cinnamon as a paste and added to the dough as well.
  • Storing Your Cake:King Cake is definitely best when served the day it is made. However, it will stay fresh in an airtight container or wrapped in plastic wrap for 2-3 days at room temperature or up to 7 days in the fridge.
  • Freeze Your Cake:Your Mardi Gras King Cake will freeze well! Simply freeze your baked King Cake for up 2-3 months by wrapping it completely with plastic wrap then put it in a freezer safe airtight container. Let it thaw on the counter for 2-3 hours before serving.
  • A pizza cutter is extremely handy for cutting the dough in half.
  • Use arolling pinto roll out the dough.
  • This homemade King Cake is always fluffy, tender, and delicious!
  • The plastic baby is optional, but in New Orleans, the host of the party adds the baby to the cake so that as it is served, whoever gets the slice with the baby will be the following year’s host.
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Mardi Gras King Cake FAQs

There are so many interesting aspects to this one delicious cake that’s steeped in tradition!

Are active dry yeast and instant yeast the same?

Not quite. They both work to leaven bread, but you use them slightly differently. Active dry yeast needs to be activated, which is what I did when I added the yeast packet to water and sugar. Instant dry yeast can be added directly to the dry ingredients.

Both types of yeast can be substituted 1:1 for the other, but using active dry yeast will take about 15 minutes longer.

What flavor is Mardi Gras king cake?

Traditionally, the cake is a cinnamon-flavored dough, but over time other flavors have also become popular. You can often find them filled with fruit fillings or a cream cheese filling.

This Mardi Gras King Cake recipe is a traditional cinnamon dough cake, similar to cinnamon rolls.

How did the Mardi Gras king cake originate?

Many people believe that the king cake tradition began inFranceand was brought toNew Orleansin 1870.
The French version was an almond-filled puff pastry with a flaky texture. It also had a decorative pattern and a paper crown was sometimes added to the top.

Why is it called a king cake?

The name “king cake”references the Biblical story of the three kings who bring gifts to Baby Jesus.

What do the Mardi Gras King Cake colors mean?

There is a ton of symbolism within this one single cake! Check it out:
Round shape – the unity of faiths
Hidden baby – baby Jesus
Purple – justice
Green – faith
Gold – power

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Pin For Later!

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The BEST Mardi Gras King Cake (Easy Recipe!) (16)

Mardi Gras King Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 packet instant rise yeast
  • 1⁄4 cup melted butter
  • 1⁄4 cup granulated sugar + 1tbsp, separated
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1⁄2 tsp salt
  • 4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp olive oil

Filling

  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped pecans

Icing

  • 1.5 cup powdered sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoons milk
  • 1⁄2 tsp vanilla

Equipment

  • Stand Mixer & Paddle Attachment
  • Bench Scraper
  • Small Bowls
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Dry Measuring cups
  • Fork or small whisk
  • Pastry Brush
  • King Cake Baby

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Remove egg from fridge and place into a bowl of warm water for 5 mins to bring it up to room temperature.
  3. Add warm milk, yeast, and 1 tbsp sugar to a bowl and stir with a fork or whisk. Let it sit for 5-10 mins.
  4. After 10 mins, pour yeast mixture, eggs, melted butter into the bottom of your stand mixer – or whisk by hand.
  5. Mix until combined, then add flour, sugar, salt, and flour. Mix until well incorporated.
  6. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead* for 5-7 mins.
  7. After the dough ball is nice and smooth, place 2 tbsp olive oil in the bottom of a large bowl and place dough on top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (preferably near the oven) for 60 mins.
  8. After 60 mins, punch dough down to release the air. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead once again for 1-2 mins.
  9. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 20 inches long.
  10. Brush on softened butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Cover the entire dough. Sprinkle on pecans (this is optional).
  11. Tightly roll the dough longways, in a similar fashion to a jelly roll.
  12. Transfer your Mardi Gras king cake dough to a parchment-lined baking dish. Bring the two ends together in a circle or oval shape and seal with water or milk.
  13. Cover and let rise for an additional 60 mins. Brush with milk before baking. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25-30 mins or until golden brown.
  14. Let the cake cool for 15-20 mins.


How To Decorate The Cake

To make the glaze, combine powdered sugar, milk (or water), and vanilla in a bowl. Stir until smooth. Icing should be thick but pourable.

Traditionally a plastic baby is added to the cake at this point. Cut a small slit into the inside or outer side of the dough and slide in the plastic baby.

Drizzle or pour glaze over the King cake. Sprinkle with green, yellow, and purple sanding sugar!

Serve and enjoy!

Notes

NOTE: If the yeast does not begin to bubble or grow in size, throw it out and start over.

The BEST Mardi Gras King Cake (Easy Recipe!) (2024)

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