mardi gras king cake

king cake 1

We celebrated Shrove Tuesday with our Dutch Baby from Baked Occasions. Here in the U-S-of-A this day is called “Mardi Gras” – aka: Fat Tuesday and is celebrated by eating our faces off in preparation for Lent, or ya know, just because we can. 

Down in Louisiana, and many other parts of the country, people celebrate with King Cake. Not to be confused with the French Galette de Rois, which celebrates a similar occasion but consists of almond-filled puff pastry.

Louisiana’s King Cake is generally filled with either cinnamon or cream cheese, then shaped into a ring or spiral, and topped with a simple glaze and colored sprinkles. Both cakes (the French and American versions) have a “feve” hidden within, whether in the form of a piece of fruit, nut, or a tiny figurine. I generally try to stay away from putting non-edible things in my food, though, because… nothing is safe when I’m in “eating” mode.

To call this a ‘cake’ is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s actually much more of a bread than a cake. What once began as a dry French bread filled with a sweet filling has since evolved into an enriched sweet dough, or even something akin to brioche in some areas. I adapted this recipe from King Arthur Flour, whose dough much more closely resembles one you might use for cinnamon rolls.

I struggled with what to use for filling, as they can vary from anything as simple as a cinnamon swirl to pastry cream or pie fillings. In the end, I ended up sticking with the more traditional cream cheese filling, with a nod to its French cousin, the galette de rois, by adding a bit of almond flavor. The result was absolutely divine.

This cake is best eaten the day its made. If you would like to make it in advance, I recommend freezing the cake once it cools and icing it after thawing. Roll more tightly than I did to avoid getting a bubble.


king cake


    For the dough
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, white reserved
  • 3 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 cup nonfat powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • For the filling
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose Flour
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • For the icing
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 to 2 teaspoons milk, enough to make a thick but pourable glaze


    For the dough
  1. Combine warm milk, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of stand mixer. Let sit 5 minutes while yeeast blooms.
  2. In a small bowl, combine 3 cups of the flour (reserving 1/2 cup for later), powdered milk, nutmeg, and salt.
  3. Once the yeast mixture is foamy, add the eggs, melted butter, and flour mixture.
  4. Knead the ingredients with the dough hook until it forms a smooth, silky dough. Using your hands is not advised, as the dough can be very sticky and soft.
  5. Once the dough comes together, form it into a ball and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 1 hour until it becomes puffy.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface and roll or stretch the dough into a 24" x 8" rectangle.
  7. Cove the dough with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest while you make the filling.
  8. For the filling:
  9. Quickly clean and dry the mixing bowl and beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and flour until smooth.
  10. Scrape down the bowl, add the extracts, and beat to combine.
  11. Pour the filling down the center of the long strip of dough. (If desired, select a nut, piece of chocolate, or dried fruit and press into the cream cheese to hide).
  12. Tightly fold the bottom half over the filling, then the top half, stretching to seal the edge. Gently lift (an extra set of hands is useful here) onto a parchment-lined half sheet pan and bend into a rough oval or circle shape, tucking one end into the other and pinching to seal.
  13. Cover the dough with your kitchen towel and let rise for about an hour, until slightly poofed. Preheat the oven to 350°F while the dough rises.
  14. Baking
  15. Whisk the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon water, and brush it over the risen cake.
  16. Bake for 20 minutes, then tent it lightly with aluminum foil and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes until it's golden brown on the outside and baked through.
  17. Remove the cake from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet about 15 minutes. Then, transfer the cake to a rack to finish cooling.
  18. For the icing:
  19. Once the cake has completely cooled, make the icing.
  20. Put powdered sugar into a small bowl or 2-cup measuring cup.
  21. Add vanilla and 2 tablespoons of the milk, beating to combine. Add remaining teaspoons of milk, a half teaspoon at a time, until the icing is thick but pourable.
  22. Pour the icing over the completely cooled cake. While it's still sticky, sprinkle with alternating bands of yellow, purple, and green sugars.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

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