Laissez les bons temps rouler with this traditional New Orleans King Cake! This easy, festive recipe is perfect for celebrating Mardi Gras.
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Mardi Gras Cake
New Orleans (as I’m sure y’all know) has some of the world’s most famous Mardi Gras celebrations, and this traditional New Orleans King Cake is usually a part of the party!!
Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, marks the end of the carnival season and the start of Lent, a period of fasting and reflection for many Christians. King Cake is commonly available in bakeries, grocery stores, and specialty shops during the Mardi Gras season, which typically runs from January 6th to Fat Tuesday.
For a little interesting historical background, the king cake came to New Orleans from France in the 1870s and honors the three kings who visited the baby Jesus. Traditionally, a dried pea, coin, or plastic baby is hidden in the cake to represent the Christ child. Whoever finds the token in their piece of cake is said to have a year of good luck! (Of course, you don’t have to add the token, but if you have little ones, it could be especially fun.)
The King Cake is also shaped like a crown and is decorated in the “royal” colors – violet (justice), gold (power), and green (faith). These three colors are also the official colors of Mardi Gras.
King Cake is an essential part of Mardi Gras celebrations in Louisiana and is enjoyed by people of all ages. Whether you buy it from a bakery, make it at home, or try it at a Mardi Gras party, King Cake is sure to bring joy and sweetness to your celebration. So go ahead, treat yourself to a slice (or two) of King Cake, and embrace the spirit of Mardi Gras!
Laissez les bons temps rouler! I love a good party … and I especially love a good cake!! 😉 I hope you enjoy this Mardi Gras cake!
New Orleans King Cake: Ingredients & Equipment
For this New Orleans King Cake recipe, you’ll need …
For the cake:
- yeast, warm water – make sure it’s an active dry yeast. The warm water (110°F – 115°F), of course, activates it! This will make your cake rise.
- sugar, butter, egg yolks, salt, nutmeg, and all-purpose flour are pretty standard ingredients for your cake batter.
- warm milk – around 110°F – 115°F, same as the water! I singled this out, so you watch for that. You don’t want to kill the yeast!
- lemon peel – this also goes into your batter. Make sure it’s grated!
- cinnamon – for the center of the cake. You spread it on the dough, then roll it up like a cake roll.
- egg – different than egg yolks! You want one beaten egg to brush on the cake, so it bakes a nice golden brown.
For the glaze:
- water and powdered sugar – these two ingredients make a glaze. Use however much of either ingredient you need until you get the consistency you want!!
- lemon juice – for a light citrus-y touch to your glaze.
- green, purple, and yellow sugars – the traditional Mardi Gras colors for decorating the cake after you’re done!
- bowls – for mixing the dough, letting it rise, etc.
How to make New Orleans King Cake
First, make your dough. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add ½ cup sugar, butter, milk, yolks, salt, lemon peel, nutmeg, and 2 cups of flour. Beat this mixture until it’s smooth, then stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough. (The dough will be sticky!)
Second, let your dough rise. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead it until smooth or elastic (which should take about 6-8 minutes). Place it in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about an hour).
Third, add your cinnamon and roll the dough. Punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it into a 16×10-in. rectangle. Then, in a small bowl, combine the cinnamon with the ¼ cup sugar. Sprinkle over the dough to within ½-in. of the edge. Roll the dough up jelly-roll style, starting on the long side. Pinch the seam to seal. Place it seam-side down on a greased baking sheet and pinch the ends together to form a ring. Cover and let rise until doubled (again, this will take an hour).
Last, bake and glaze your king cake! Preheat your oven to 375°F. Brush the cake with the beaten egg. Bake the cake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown, then cool it completely on a wire rack. For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and enough water to achieve the desired consistency. Spread or pour it over the cooled cake and sprinkle the cake with the colored sugars.
New Orleans King Cake: FAQs
This recipe takes 20 minutes to prep and 30 minutes to cook. However, you’ll need about two hours to let the dough rise. (Thankfully, it’s hands-off!!)
This recipe should make enough for about 12 to 15 servings, depending on portion sizes.
Yes!! If you think you’ll have a busy Mardi Gras, you can make the dough a day ahead and put it in the fridge. It’ll be fine overnight to bake the next day!!
Popular fillings for King Cake include cinnamon sugar, cream cheese, fruit, and pecan praline.
King Cake will typically last up to five days when stored in an airtight container at room temperature. It can also be frozen for up to three months.
A small plastic baby figurine is often hidden inside the cake. Tradition dictates that whoever finds the baby in their slice of cake is responsible for buying the next King Cake or hosting the next Mardi Gras celebration.
I recommend NOT baking the plastic baby in your cake. It could melt. I prefer to add it once the cake has baked and cooled. After baking and once the cake has cooled, and before decorating, make a small slit in the bottom of the cake and place the baby into the hole.
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For the cake
- 2 packages ( 1/4 oz. each) active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water (110°F - 115°F)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
- 1/2 cup warm milk (110°F - 115°F)
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3-4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 large egg, beaten
For the glaze
- 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2-3 tablespoons water
- green, purple and yellow sugars
- plastic baby, optional
- In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add the 1/2 cup sugar, butter, milk, yolks, salt, lemon peel, nutmeg, and 2 cups of flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough. The dough will be sticky.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth or elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.
- Punch down dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 16x10-inch rectangle. In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon with the 1/4 cup sugar. Sprinkle over the dough to within 1/2-inch of the edge. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting on the long side. Pinch the seam to seal. Place seam-side down on a greased baking sheet - pinch ends together to form a ring. Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour.
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Brush the cake with the beaten egg. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.
- For the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and enough water to achieve the desired consistency. Spread or pour over the cooled cake. Sprinkle with the colored sugars.
- King Cake typically lasts up to five days when stored in an airtight container at room temperature. It can also be frozen for up to three months.
- A small plastic baby figurine is often hidden inside the cake. Tradition dictates that whoever finds the baby in their slice of cake is responsible for buying the next King Cake or hosting the next Mardi Gras celebration.
- Want to add a plastic baby to your cake? After baking and once the cake has cooled, and before decorating, make a small slit in the bottom of the cake and place the baby into the hole.
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15-Inch Nonstick Baking Sheet
Nutrition Information:Yield: 15 Serving Size: 1 slice
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 485Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 50mgSodium: 163mgCarbohydrates: 102gFiber: 3gSugar: 25gProtein: 12g
Please note that the nutritional information listed on this page is an estimation based on the products I used. Ingredients and nutritional information can vary significantly between brands. Always be sure to read labels. Please verify that a recipe fits your needs before using it. Nutrition info may contain errors, so please verify it independently. Likewise, recipes may contain errors, so please use your common sense when following them.
Originally published on February 25, 2014. Updated on February 6, 2023.