This king cake recipe is based on the original variation of the sweet, yeast-risen cake filled with cream cheese custard typically served at Mardi Gras celebrations. The colorful cake is always sprinkled with yellow (or gold, symbolizing power), green (faith), and purple (justice) sugar or frosting. Whoever gets the baby or bean in their piece of cake gets to be king or queen for a day. As with many fun rituals, there is a slight downside: the newly crowned monarch must furnish a king cake for everyone either the next workday or the next week, depending on the traditions of that particular group.
Prep Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes
- 3/4 cup milk, warmed to 100F
- 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
- 2 whole eggs
- 1 egg yolk (reserve the white for egg wash)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup instant dry milk powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 8 ounces cream cheese softened
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 plastic baby figurine or dried bean (optional)
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons milk
- Yellow, green, and purple dusting sugar
To make the dough, sprinkle the yeast over 3 tablespoons of the warm milk and allow it to dissolve for 5 minutes. Add the remaining milk, along with the butter, whole eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla extract to the yeast mixture. Gently beat the wet ingredients until they are smooth; add the flour, sugar, dry milk, salt, lemon zest, and nutmeg and stir until the dough becomes stiff. Knead the dough for 3 minutes, place it in an oiled bowl, and allow it to rise, covered in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.
Make the filling by beating the cream cheese, granulated sugar, egg, and lemon zest on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Set the filling aside.
Shape the dough into a large rectangle, about 2 feet long, by 6 inches wide. Spoon the filling down the center of the dough, place a bean or plastic baby in the filling, if desired, and working methodically from one end to the other, pinch the dough shut to form a log. Pinch the ends together to form a large circle. Gently place the circle on a parchment-lined baking sheet and allow it to rise, covered, in a warm, draft-free place for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until it is noticeably puffed up.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Make an egg wash by mixing the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon of water. Gently brush the king cake with the egg wash and bake it for 30 minutes. Lightly cover the cake with foil to prevent overbrowning and continue baking it for an additional 20 minutes. Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack for 1 hour.
Prepare the frosting by mixing together the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, and milk until the frosting is completely smooth and silky. Drizzle it evenly over the cooled cake. While the frosting is still moist on top, sprinkle the colored sugars in an alternating pattern directly onto the frosting so it sticks.
This king cake recipe makes 12 servings.