Mardi Gras King Cake

Mardi Gras King Cake

This traditional Mardi Gras king cake is made with brioche dough, sweet cinnamon filling, and decadent icing coated with colorful sprinkles. If you’re looking for the best king cake recipe to celebrate Fat Tuesday, you’ve come to the right place!

slice of Mardi Gras King Cake on plate

Between Twelfth Night and Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras partygoers from around the world come to New Orleans and indulge in the iconic Mardi Gras king cake. It’s the most widely anticipated time of the year for tourists and locals alike! 

Can you blame us?

Traditionally made with a brioche dough, cinnamon filling, and colorful sugary icing, king cake is both a sight to see and a mouth-watering treat to devour.

Mardi Gras and king cake have gone hand in hand in New Orleans for years. It’s a time-honored (and delicious) tradition that comes from the biblical story of the Three Wise Men who brought gifts to baby Jesus. If you’ve ever wondered ‘why is there a baby in king cake,’ it’s thought to be symbolic of baby Jesus and is now mainly used as a symbol of good luck in the coming year. But if you get the slice with the baby in it. The next king cake is on you.

While there are plenty of amazing bakeries in New Orleans with homemade king cakes, I knew I needed to come up with my own recipe for when I couldn’t be in town during the Carnival season. Lo and behold, this Mardi Gras king cake recipe is the ultimate way to celebrate at home no matter where you live. Grab your beads, turn up the music, get your cake ingredients together, and get ready for a Mardi Gras you’ll never forget!

We have a saying in New Orleans during Mardis Gras, “Everywhere else, it’s just Tuesday.”

Mardi Gras King Cake with the traditional king cake baby

Key Ingredients

To make this traditional Mardi Gras cake, you’re going to need the following key ingredients.

  • All-Purpose Flour: You can swap this out for a 1:1 gluten-free version or use bread flour if needed. 
  • Yeast: This helps develop the tender and buttery layers of cake. Don’t skip it!
  • Butter Shortening: Using shortening instead of butter helps the king cake stay moist and tender for way longer than butter would.
  • Cinnamon Sugar: Similar to a cinnamon roll, king cakes are traditionally filled with a tasty cinnamon sugar mixture.  
  • Oil: Most king cake recipes call for butter to help the cinnamon sugar mixture stick. However, I’ve found better results with oil because it doesn’t release steam as it cooks and it also acts as a better adhesive than melted butter.   
  • King Cake Baby: The original baby was a bean but as the Mardi Gras tradition grew, a small plastic baby was incorporated into the Mardi Gras king cake tradition. Now, it serves as a symbol of good luck in the new year! 
  • Colored Sugar Sprinkles: Purple, green, and yellow/gold sugar sprinkles are traditional for coating any Mardi Gras king cake. These are the colors of Mardi Gras!
close up view Mardi Gras King Cake

New Orleans King Cake Recipe

The recipe for Mardi Gras king cake or New Orleans king cake can be divided into four key components: making the dough, cinnamon filling, shaping the cake, and preparing the icing. Follow the recipe below for how to make a homemade king cake.

Step 1: Make the Dough

Preheat oven to 170°F or warm. Once hot, cut the oven off. In the bowl for your stand mixer, mix the yeast and warm milk together, then let the yeast bloom for 5 minutes. 

Add the sugar, kosher salt, shortening, egg, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and 1 ¼ cup of flour, place bowl in a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and mix on low for 30 seconds. 

Add the remaining flour and mix on low for 5 minutes, scraping the bowl to help the dough form into a soft ball of dough. 

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough 20 times until the dough is smooth. Then, form into a ball and transfer to a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a towel and pop in the warm oven for 30 minutes; dough will be slightly larger in size.

Step 2: Make the Cinnamon Sugar Filling

In a medium bowl, mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, and kosher salt together.

Step 3: Shape the King Cake

Preheat oven to 170°F or warm. Once hot, cut the oven off. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to ¼ inch thickness and into a circular shape (a little larger than a 10-inch plate). 

Brush with oil evenly spread cinnamon sugar over the dough, and then fold the dough in half. Cut dough into 3 strips and braid dough tightly, then press and roll dough together from one side to the other (the dough will seem to fight against this) into a log shape. 

Bring the two ends together in an oval shape. Press and roll the end pieces together. Transfer your king cake dough to a baking sheet, then cover and pop in a warm oven for 30 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 350°F; bake for 25-27 minutes until golden brown. Cool the king cake for 20 minutes before placing the king cake baby inside a secret spot of your choice. 

Step 4: Make the King Cake Icing 

While the king cake cools, in a large bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt until smooth and thick. Then, smear the icing evenly over the king cake. 

Spray with food-colored spray or add colored sugar in a cross shape one at a time to the top, bottom, left, and right. Repeat with remaining colors. 

Enjoy immediately or cover with plastic wrap and store in a cool place.

Mardi Gras King Cake

King Cake Recipe Tips for Success

Want to make the best traditional king cake ever? Of course, you do! Here are some of my top recipe tips to help you get the job done:

  • You can use any type of dairy milk or plant milk you want for this recipe.
  • Serving a crowd? You can easily double the recipe for a more giant king cake to feed 20-24 people. There’s no better way to get the party started than with king cake!
  • Making your own colored sugar sprinkles? I recommend using plant-based food coloring like this food-grade food coloring because it’s healthier for you. You’ll need 18 drops of food coloring for every cup of sugar. Make sure to mix thoroughly! 
  • Here’s where I got my food-grade coloring spray. It’s a fun way to add different colors. 

Storage:

  • Your king cake will stay fresh when stored at room temperature for up to 4 days, as long as you cover it tightly with plastic wrap. After the second day, I recommend reheating it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds to soften it up.
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Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to some of the most popular questions about this New Orleans king cake recipe:

What is a king cake?

King cake is a New Orleans dessert traditionally served during the time of year between Twelfth Night and Fat Tuesday. It’s a colorful cake made with a simple brioche dough base and flavorful fillings like cinnamon sugar swirled throughout. 

King cake is topped with creamy icing and finished with purple, green, yellow, or gold sprinkles to honor the holiday season. 

Why is there a baby inside of king cake?

The baby inside of king cake comes from the story of the Three Wise Men from the Bible who brought gifts to baby Jesus. Many people believe that the plastic baby represents baby Jesus himself, while others view it as a token of good luck. 

Whoever gets the slice of king cake with the baby inside is thought to have a year of good fortune coming their way. If you can’t find a plastic baby, you can also use a bean or some other small trinket. 

slice of Mardi Gras King Cake on cutting board with knife

What flavor is Mardi Gras king cake?

The easiest answer would be that king cake is cinnamon-flavored. The flavor of the cake itself is similar to pound cake, with cinnamon sugar swirled throughout and a creamy sugar icing on top. However, some people add their own twists to traditional king cake with chocolate, cherry filling or cream cheese.

What do the colors on king cake mean?

King cake is famously topped with sprinkles in the colors of Mardi Gras—purple, green, and yellow or gold. These colors (in order) represent justice, faith, and power. If you’re lucky enough to be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, you will see these colors everywhere.

Latest Recipe Video:

close up of Mardi Gras King Cake
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More Delicious New Orleans Desserts Recipes

Whether you’re celebrating or just looking for a weekend treat, it’s always a good time for cake. Here are some more awesome New Orleans recipes to try next:

So if you’re looking for a delicious king cake recipe to celebrate Fat Tuesday, look no further! You don’t have to wait until Mardi Gras to enjoy this delightful dessert! In fact, I think you should make a batch today. Make the recipe and let me know what you think in the comments below. And don’t forget to leave me a 5-star review if you love it!

slice of Mardi Gras King Cake on plate

Mardi Gras King Cake

Kenneth Temple
This traditional New Orleans king cake recipe is made with brioche dough, sweet cinnamon filling, and decadent icing.
5 from 4 votes
Prep Time 2 hrs
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 25 mins
Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine American, Creole, French, New Orleans
Servings 10 slices
Calories 411 kcal

Ingredients
  

King Cake:

  • 1 package of active dry yeast
  • ¾ cups warm milk
  • ¼ cup raw cane sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter flavored shortening
  • 1 large egg slightly beaten
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour divide, plus more for kneading
  • 1 king cake baby

Cinnamon Filling:

  • 1 tablespoons oil
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Icing:

  • 8 oz. 1 ¾ cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Purple green & yellow sugar sprinkles

Instructions
 

  • Dough: Preheat oven to 170°F or warm, once hot, cut the oven off. In the bowl for your stand mixer, mix the yeast and warm milk together, let yeast bloom for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, kosher salt, shortening, egg, vanilla extract, cinnamon and 1 ¼ cup of flour, place bowl in stand mixer, attach dough hook and mix on low for 30 seconds. Add remaining flour and mix on low for 5 minutes, scrape bowl to help dough form to a soft ball of dough.
  • On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough 20 times until the dough is smooth, form into a ball and transfer to a lightly greased bowl, cover with a towel and pop in the warm oven for 30 minutes, dough will be slightly larger in size.
  • Cinnamon filling: In a medium bowl mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and kosher salt together.
  • Shaping King Cake: Preheat oven to 170°F or warm, once hot, cut the oven off. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to ¼ inch thickness and into a circular shape (a little larger than a 10-inch plate). Brush with oil and evenly spread cinnamon sugar over dough. Fold dough in half. Cut dough into 3 strips and braid dough tightly, then press and roll dough together from one side to the other (the dough will seem to fight against this) into a log shape. Bring the two ends together in an oval shape. Press and roll the end pieces together. Place king cake dough on a baking sheet, cover and pop in a warm oven for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F; bake for 25-27 minutes until golden brown. Cool king cake for 20 minutes before placing the king cake baby inside a secret spot.
  • Icing: While king cake cools, in a large bowl whisk together powdered sugar, milk, vanilla and salt until smooth and thick.; then smear icing evenly over king cake.
  • Spray with food colored spray or add colored sugar in a cross shape one at a time to the top, bottom, left and right. Then repeat with remaining colors. Enjoy immediately or cover with plastic wrap and keep in a cool place.

Video

Notes

King Cake Recipe Tips for Success:
Want to make the best traditional king cake ever? Of course, you do! Here are some of my top recipe tips to help you get the job done:
  • You can use any type of dairy milk or plant milk you want for this recipe.
  • Serving a crowd? You can easily double the recipe for a more giant king cake to feed 20-24 people. There’s no better way to get the party started than with king cake!
  • Making your own colored sugar sprinkles? I recommend using plant-based food coloring like this food-grade food coloring because it’s healthier for you. You’ll need 18 drops of food coloring for every cup of sugar. Make sure to mix thoroughly! Here’s where I got my food-grade coloring spray. It’s a fun way to add different colors.
Make Your Own Colored Sugar:
  • To make your own colored sugar: divide 1 cup of sugar into three bowls, each bowl is for a different color, for yellow and green sugar, use 18 drops of plant-based food coloring, mix together until sugar is evenly coated.
  • For purple sugar, in a small bowl, mix 9 drops of red and 9 drops of blue plant-based food coloring, then mix with sugar until sugar is evenly coated.
Storage:
  • Your king cake will stay fresh when stored at room temperature for up to 4 days, as long as you cover it tightly with plastic wrap. After the second day, I recommend reheating it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds to soften it up.

Nutrition

Calories: 411kcalCarbohydrates: 74gProtein: 6gFat: 11gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 19mgSodium: 254mgPotassium: 106mgFiber: 2gSugar: 39gVitamin A: 65IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 55mgIron: 2mg
Keyword best king cake recipe, King cake new orleans recipe, king cake recipe, New Orleans king cake recipe
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