Welcome to my home-made Mardi Gras celebration! King Cake helps the good times roll in New Orleans and all the Mardi Gras-celebrating regions. My Mardi Gras King Cake recipe shows you bake up those good times and bring that colorful sweetness into your home kitchen!
The City of New Orleans knows how to throw a party, and Mardi Gras is their biggest and best. Mardi Gras is the Big Easy’s weeks-long, on-going, parade-packed, bead-and-glitter-filled season of fun, costumes, revelry, music and dancing, all fueled with wonderful and delicious things to eat and drink!
WHAT IS MARDI GRAS
Mardi Gras is celebration season, beginning on January 6th (AKA the Twelfth Day of Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany), and ending on “Fat Tuesday”, or “Mardi Gras” in French, the day before Ash Wednesday begins the forty-day observance of Lent.
For Catholics and many other Christians, Lent is a time of contemplation, simplicity, and sacrifice. Mardi Gras is solemn Lent’s opposite number, a time to indulge in fun and excess prior to turning inward. This year’s Fat Tuesday falls on March 5th.
WHAT IS KING CAKE
King Cake is a ring of pastry, made from sweet, rich yeast-raised dough, shaped into a crown and iced with Mardi Gras season’s signature colors of green, purple and gold. The King refers the Christmas story of the Three Kings or Magi, wise royal leaders who traveled twelve days through the desert to see the Baby Jesus, arriving on January 6th.
King Cakes reign at gatherings plain and fancy, throughout Mardi Gras season in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Bakeries and grocery stores in the region sell King Cakes throughout the season, and most people buy them rather than make them at home.
WHERE DOES KING CAKE ORIGINATE
New Orleans’ ring-shaped bread-like King Cake tradition comes from Spain, where the confection is known as Rosca de Reyes (“rosca” means “ring”). In Portugal this sweet-dough pastry is known as Bolo Rei. (“bolo” means “cake”). Both cakes are decorated with candied fruits in red and green rather than icing, while dried fruits and nuts, including almonds, pine nuts, and walnuts, are often featured as well.
In France, the classic Twelfth Night celebration cake is Galette des rois, a different confection made from rich puff pastry shaped into a circle and enclosing an almond filling. This king cake is a version of the classic French confection, pithiviers, In France’s Southern region, the yeast-raised ring-shaped cake shares the stage as a vibrant king cake traditions, showing the area’s Mediterranean roots).
Like all King Cake iterations, the French version features a hidden treasure, a ‘feve’ or trinket which could be a broad bean, walnut, or a porcelain charm. The one who gets the feve is King or Queen for the evening. In New Orleans tradition, the lucky one gets to bring the King Cake to the next party, always imminent throughout the festive weeks of Carnival, culminating in Mardi Gras.
Unique among King Cake traditions, New Orleans’ carries on throughout the many weeks of Carnival season, while its pastry cousins reign over Epiphany on January 6th, or throughout the 12 Days of Christmas, but fade away once January 7th arrives.
WHAT DOES KING CAKE TASTE LIKE
The original New Orleans-style King Cakes are more bread more than cake, albeit in an sugar-and-eggs enriched brioche tradition rather than one of sturdy sandwich breads. Think Panettone, the tender, egg-enriched yeast-raised Christmas-season breads of Italy.
Studded with raisins and candied fruit, these resemble King Cake without the sweet, bright, and boldly-colored decorative glaze. Enjoy King Cake with coffee or hot chocolate, because dunking it adds to the fun of eating it.
HOW TO MAKE KING CAKE AT HOME
While nearly every bakery and grocery store in the Big Easy has stacks of King Cakes ready to go through out Carnival season , here in North Carolina they’re harder to find. I love to making King Cakes in my home kitchen and hope you will, too!
To make a king cake, you need flour, sugar, eggs, butter, milk, and yeast. Modern King Cakes, starting in the 1950’s onward, have expanded into more variations, with fillings becoming popular, especially cream cheese and praline fillings, or butter and spices for a cinnamon-roll effect.
Ingredients are easy to find, and decoration inspiration can take you right over the top because this cake is about creating and expressing, not following staid old pathways. Google King Cake and prepare to be dazzled by all the ways people think up to go with this wonderful and unique confection.
Start with a rich, egg-and-sugar boosted yeast dough, which needs to rise twice.
King Cakes in this tradition can be round or oval, braided or not, but you’ve got to have that open center because we are creating a royal crown here, people!
Here’s my braided King Cake version, after its first rising in the bowl, and this second rising once I shaped it into its braided wreath shape, right on the baking pan. (You don’t want to move the risen ring of dough!)
Close up on my braided, egg-washed king cake, fresh from the oven! Nex comes its glaze of sweet rich lemon-flavored icing.
I used the egg-wash on this particular cake, and it adds such a handsome color and shine. But it’s an extra step and I often skip it. Do what works for you and your kitchen!
I made my own colored sugars, using liquid food coloring with sugar in a big glass jar. Shake shake shake and keep going till you get the color you want.
Here’s a big oval king cake I made from this recipe. I say oval but this one wanted to be a heart! Below is this oval version, iced and ready to share. I love this cake!
MORE MARDI GRAS RECIPES ? WHY, YES INDEED!
Because Mardi Gras season is all about celebration, going all in, and letting those good times roll, I’ve got a big, colorful, delicious and fun parade of recipes to feed your inner New Orleanian all season long. Chrissie of Off the Eaten Path recruited this fine crew of food blogging friends to post Mardi Gras-inspired recipes today, and it’s a feast!
Hurricane Matthew (A Hurricane Drink Recipe) by Chrissie of Off the Eaten Path
Vieux Carre Cocktail by Susannah of Feast + West
No Churn Mardi Gras King Cake Ice Cream by Erin of The Speckled Plate
Cajun Spicy Tomato Soup by Jenni of Online Pastry Chef
Jambalaya Balls by LeAndra of Love & Flour
Shrimp Hush Puppies by Megan of Stetted
Traditional Polish Paczki by Erica of The Crumby Kitchen
King Cake Donut Holes by Meghan of Cake ‘n Knife
Easy Shrimp Po Boys by Melissa of Simply Whisked
Easy Jambalaya by Michelle of The Secret Ingredient
Mardi Gras King Cake by Me! And here you are at Nancie’s Table already!
Homemade Beignets by Renee of Kudos Kitchen by Renee
Pecan Pralines by Stephie of Stephie Cooks
King Cake in a petite Video View
Here’s a one-minute explainer of King Cake in the Mardi Gras tradition!
MY RECIPE FOR A BEAUTIFUL, DELICIOUS KING CAKE
Here’s how I make King Cake. Sometimes I make one big one, and other times I make two smaller ones so I can share the joy and fun.
Mardi Gras season means celebrations, music, dancing, and fun, and nobody celebrates it like the people of Louisiana and Alabama, especially the city of New Orleans. One sweet feature throughout the Mardi Gras season is King Cake, an icing-covered yeast-raised ring decorated in traditional colors of purple, green, and gold. Traditionally, Mardi Gras celebrants buy King Cakes throughout the season, but if you live far from where they let the good times roll, you can make your own King Cake at home! In New Orleans, bakeries provide a tiny plastic baby to poke into the cake. Whomever gets the baby in their slice gets the honor of bringing a king cake to the next Mardi Gras party (It's never just one!) You can use a pecan or a walnut for your homemade King Cake, or order a plastic baby online, to be tucked in just before serving time.
- ½ cup lukewarm water (110 to 115 degrees)
- 2 packages active dry yeast (about 4 ½ teaspoons)
- 2 teaspoons plus ½ cup granulated sugar
- 3 ½ to 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour; )plus up to ¾ cup more as you knead)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or nutmeg)
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, or orange zest (optional)
- ½ cup lukewarm milk (110 to 115 degrees)
- 5 egg yolks. beaten well
- 8 tablespoons very soft butter, cut into ½ inch bits (1 stick, 4 ounces)
- Plus 2 tablespoons very soft butter
- 1 shelled pecan half, or walnut half, or 1 whole almond, or one uncooked dried lima bean
GLAZE BEFORE BAKING (optional)
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon milk
- Colored icing sugar in Purple, Green, and Yellow/Gold (Sugar + food coloring + glass jar with lid & SHAKE It UP!)
- 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice or orange juice plus 1 tablespoon milk, or 3 tablespoons milk
- In a small, shallow bowl, combine lukewarm water, yeast, and 2 teaspoons of the sugar; stir well.
- Set aside to rest and bloom, while you prepare the flour mixture.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine 3 ½ cups of the flour, remaining ½ cup of granulated sugar, salt, cinnamon, and grated lemon zest; stir well.
- Make a well in the flour and add puffed-up yeast mixture; lukewarm milk, and beaten egg yolks; stirring to make a very soft dough/thick batter.
- Work in soft butter bits, pressing against sides of bowl to mix well.
- Add another half cup of flour; more if needed to form a dough which is quite sticky but holds its shape.
- Add flour till you have a very, very soft ball or lump, more dry than sticky,
- Turn it out onto a floured cutting board or counter top and knead with floured hands for 5 minutes, turning and scraping, adding flour very parsimoniously as you go.
- When your dough is soft, springy, and dry, let it rest while you grease the inside of a large mixing bowl generously with vegetable oil or more soft butter.
- Turn the ball of dough around in the bowl to grease it well; then cover with a kitchen towel and set in a warm place to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the dough has risen to twice its original size, looking dry and puffed up.
- Punch the dough down with a big gutsy punch: POOF!!!!! And then knead gently for a few turns.
- Divide the dough into two parts, to make two rings. Or leave it to make one gigantic ring.
- Set out a large baking tray or a cookie sheet for each ring (one large one or two smaller ones), lined with baking parchment and greased well with butter.
- Shape one portion of dough into a plump 20-inch cylinder, parallel to the edge of the counter..
- Place it on the greased baking parchment and shape it into a big open ring, round or oval, pushing it out to the edges and leaving center open.
- Tuck your feve (pecan or walnut half; whole almond; or big flat dried bean) into the dough on the bottom, hidden from view.
- NOTE: If you have a plastic baby, wait! Add it to the cooled cake, pushing it in from the bottom. Plastic and ovens don’t mix.
- Cover the shaped ring with the kitchen towel and let rise 45 min to 1 hour more.
- To bake, heat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Meanwhile, very gently brush the risen cakes with the egg-milk mixture using a pastry brush or back of a spoon; Icing covers this so skip if you wish, but it's a lovely extra touch
- Bake at 375 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes, checking and turning cake to help it brown evenly.
- When it is golden brown and shiny, remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before icing; then add plastic baby or feve to the bottom of the cake.before icing.
ICING AND DECORATION
- Combine confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice and milk in a large mixing bowl. Use a Stir well with a whisk or large spoon or spatula to make a smooth, shiny, rich and pourable glaze.
- Place cooled cake on a cooling rack over a sheet pan or parchment-lined counter surface to catch icing as it oozes down the sides.
- Use a large spoon, a ladle or a whisk to spoon, drizzle, or slather icing all over the surface of the cake.
- Quickly sprinkle on colored sugars, in stripes or big color patches; thick or thin? --- it’s your King Cake!
- Let stand for 15 minutes to set. Transfer to a serving platter and serve at room temperature.
- Eat it, don't keep it, enjoying it soon after you make it, and turn remaining KC into French toast, thickly-sliced and well-buttered cinnamon toast, or bread pudding.
- Google King Cake and check Images for decoration ideas, which are endless and varied and fun.
Nutrition InformationYield 6 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 717Total Fat 25gSaturated Fat 14gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 9gCholesterol 238mgSodium 900mgCarbohydrates 116gFiber 4gSugar 93gProtein 10g
It is also interesting the fact the King Cake celebrates Mardi Gras season. In Christmas and Easter most of portuguese houses nava a Bolo Rei cake.
Yes! As you may know, the King Cake is a treasure enjoyed from January 6 through Mardi Gras in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Also in nearby cities of the deep south such as Mobile Alabama, where the old time French and Spanish cultural traditions still thrive. Bolo Rei! This is the Portugese version of King Cake? I have never seen one; I have only read about this cake. Do Portugese people make them at home, or buy them from a bakery?
I have always seen this King Cake but didn’t know about its long history. Fascinating! I’m always intimidated by any yeast based recipe, but you make it look so easy! YUM!
Thank you so much, Laura! I love King Cake, but didn’t grow up knowing about it. I learned about it while researching my cake book, and only started making them at that time. I know what you mean about yeast — it’s a challenge compared to other kinds of baking. IF we lived in New Orleans and other Mardi Gras-centric places, we would most likely be buying our King Cakes, since it’s generally not a home-made treat in its homeplace!
You always give the best directions–so clear! I know anyone who makes your King Cake will find great success and deliciousness, Nancie!
PS I also love your homemade colored sugar!
I love making them, Jenni! — like coloring Easter eggs but WAY less messy and more delicious to devour! I’m making more King Cakes so I can put my sugary creations to good use while the good times are still rolling!
Thank you, Jenni, most kind of you!