King Cake!

The first time I had a king cake I did not enjoy it. Not because I didn’t like the taste of sweet bricoche-y bread topped with icing and colored sugar, but because I happened to get the slice with the baby in it. For those of you who don’t know the tradition, a small plastic trinket (often of a baby) or a coin is hidden in the baked cake and the person who finds it in their slice gets good luck, or to be king, or to bring the cake the following year, or something. Well, for some reason at the time I had that first slice of king cake with the baby inside of it, I did not want to tell anyone I had found it. I’m not exactly sure why, but it seemed embarrassing. So, I hid the baby and didn’t say anything. By the time we had finished the cake and everyone was complaining about the bakery forgetting to include a baby it seemed too weird to fess up. So my first experience with this cake was awkward. Thankfully, I have recovered from my king cake issues and am now able to enjoy a slice, baby or not.

This recipe for king cake is from DamGoodSweet, a cookbook which chronicles the best of New Orleans desserts as made by David Guas. It is a fantastic book, both in terms of recipe quality and writing, and I am looking forward to trying many of the recipes. With Mardi Gras a few days away and the Saints crowned as our new Superbowl champions, it seems like a perfect time to make a king cake and start celebrating. For the record, I didn’t include a baby in my cake. Maybe I am not fully recovered.

This recipe looks insanely long, I know. But it isn’t long, it is just thorough. The cake comes together pretty easily. You’ll notice from the photos that I didn’t have the food colorings I needed to make this in the traditional green, gold, purple color scheme but I still liked how it turned out. It keeps well at room temperature for a couple of days, but really is best on the day it is made.

***For more on king cakes, check this out. It also covers some of the European versions of the cakes which are associated with Epiphany rather than Mardi Gras…

King Cake (from DamGoodSweet by David Guas & Raquel Pelez)

The Cake

  • 1 (1 1/4-0z) package dry active yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm milk (105°-115°F)
  • 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons bread flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • small plastic toy or coin or bean (optional)

Egg Wash

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Icing and Decoration

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups of sugar
  • green, yellow, and purple food coloring

Whisk the yeast with the warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer until dissolved. Add the 6 tablespoons of bread flour and the honey and, using the paddle attachment , mix on low speed until fairly smooth (there will still be a few lumps), 30 seconds to 1 minute, scraping the bottom and sides of bowl as necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.

Once the dough has doubled, add 3/4 cup of the remaining bread flour, the cake flour, eggs, egg yolk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and almond extracts, and salt. Mix on low speed until combined, then switch to a dough hook, increase the speed to medium, and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and begin adding 4 tablespoons of the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing well between additions. Continue to knead until the dough forms a slack ball (it will ride the dough hook, be tacky, and not slap the bottom of the bowl, but it should generally come together into a loose mass), 2 to 3 minutes. If the dough doesn’t come together, continue kneading while adding up to 1/4 cup of the reserved bread flour, until it does.

Grease a large bowl with 1/2 tablespoon of the remaining butter and transfer the dough  to the bowl, turning it over in the bowl to coat with butter. Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and place the bowl in a draft free spot until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and grease the parchment paper with the remaining butter. Generously flour your work surface with remaining 1/4 cup of bread flour (if you used the bread flour on the dough, dust your work surface with more bread flour). Turn the dough out onto the work surface and sprinkle the top with some flour. Use your hands to press and flatten it into a rectangle. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 1/4-inch-thick strip that is about 24 inches long and 6 inches wide. Starting with one of the long sides, roll the dough on top of itself, making a long, thin baguette shaped length. Pinch the edges to the body of the dough to seal, turn the dough so it lies horizontally on your work surface, and gently roll it on your work surface to even out any buldges and create a somewhat consistent 1 1/2-inch-wide rope. Bring the two ends of the dough together and pinch them into one another to seal. Carefully transfer the dough circle to the prepared pan. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towl  and set in a warm, dry spot to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Heat oven to 375F. To make the egg wash, whisk the egg and the milk together in a small bowl. Brush the egg wash over the top and sides of the dough, and bake the king cake until golden brown and cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes. Immediately after removing cake from oven, make a small slit in the bottom of the cake and insert the baby figurine (if using). Set on a rack to cool completely.

While the cake cools, make the icing. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, milk and vanilla together in a medium bowl until smooth and completely incorporated. Cover the bowl with a damp towel until you are ready to decorate the cake.

To make the colored sugar, measure 1 cup of the sugar into each of 3 resealable quart-size plastic bags. Add 4 drops of green food coloring to one bag. 4 drops of yellow food coloring to another bag and 4 drops of purple food coloring to the last bag.  Seal each bag and then vigorously shake to combine the sugar and food coloring.

Spoon the icing over the cooled cake. Immediately after icing, decorate with the tinted sugar.

31 comments to “King Cake!”

  1. Tim, what a beautiful cake!

    recently had my first homemade king cake and I can tell you I’ll NEVER be eating one of those stale, overly sweet store-bought versions ever again. May have to give this one a try before Lent settles in next week!

  2. This King Cake is gorgeous!! King Cake is definitely not a cinch to make and yours is absolute perfection. Happy Mardi Gras!

  3. Yay king cakes! This looks so delicious! I love that yours looks light and airy.

  4. Beaaaautiful!

    I used to work at a mexican restaurant and they were huuuge on this stuff…although if you got the baby you had to bring food for some party, so I was not happy when I got it and was expected to bring in food while living in the worlds tiniest apartment and having absolutely no money!

    Your cake looks gorgeous though, and I’m borderline drooling just looking at the pictures!

  5. cool, i want to play!

  6. That cake is truly outrageous.

  7. You’re truly outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous.

  8. Who dat?!

    I love King Cakes and have had some really great one from bakeries but haven’t ever made mmy own.

  9. New to your site and what a pleasure to see this incredible creation on the front page! And now i’ve fallen in love with L&D (if i may be so familiar). Thanks for an amazing site and your insightful posts.

  10. Welcome, Jen! Glad you found me!

  11. It is really amazing and outrageous.. The image like a piece of oil painting.

  12. Beautiful king cake! I live 45 minutes away from New Orleans and we love our king cakes down here. Ralph’s cream cheese is hands down the best. I’ve always loved trying your posts and my fiancée and I look forward to this one!

  13. Wow, that’s some seriously intense cake! Looks absolutely beautiful and completely un-awkward.

  14. I just made a king cake last week using the recipe of a very famous New Orleans chef and I thought it couldn’t go wrong. It was terrible- dense and dry. I can’t wait to try this one, it looks perfect!

  15. This looks really lovely although really, really sweet too (must be all that icing). I have to try it though as I imagine it’s quite delicious. Where my family comes from we have the Bolo Rei ( – one of my favourite cakes probably because I’ve been eating it all my life!

  16. I can’t WAIT to make this!!!!! gorgeousness!!

  17. I can’t believe you can eat this cake! It looks gorgeous!

  18. ah! i’ve always wanted to try a king cake, but i live in california and there are no king cakes to be found ANYWHERE. thanks for recipe! also your story about the plastic baby made me lol…no seriously, i just laughed out loud in this coffee shop and people stared at me.

  19. Your cake is one of the most gorgeous things i have ever seen. You have outdone yourself!

  20. I’ve never has King cake, but it looks awesome!!

  21. By has, I meant had. :)

  22. um….wow….just wow! i’m doing a post about your crazy cool cake on my site next week {hope that’s ok with you, if it’s not please let me know :) }. it might be the best thing i’ve ever seen.

  23. OMG. It’s so colorful! It’s the happiest cake I’ve ever seen!

  24. Is it too late to comment on Blog Aid? I received my copy and love it! I have been showing it to all my friends. They agree that it has a very special look to it: quite artistic. Everyone seems drawn to one or more recipes immediately. I hope their enthusiasm translates to more orders and, ultimately more money for Haiti. Thank you.

  25. When you grow up in Louisiana, you know about the baby even when you’re a wee kid. Yes, our parents served us cake with a choking hazard inside and we loved it!

  26. I made this cake for a party last weekend. It turned out great!

  27. This is such an awesome picture! I love what you are doing here on your site!!!

  28. I know this might come rather late but you might just be interested:

    Bolo Rei (or, as you called it, King Cake) is a Christmas favourite in Portgual. Ours look a little different, though. The reciepe over here gets round to being more like a heavy-brioche (if you can curb your imagination around that) type bread, spattered with small pieces of cristalized/candied fruit (much like the english fruit-cake) and pine-nuts, and sometimes even crushed wallnuts. the flat-doughnut shaped bun is then decorated with large ribbons of candied fruit (much like jewels), ranging from orange-peels, pears and coloured squash. powdered sugar serves as a topping once de cake is done baking and the end result is much like a crown… but that a much naturally-coloured and scented.

    before it was banned a few years back, the cake would also come with 2 surprises: a tin toy (that could be anything from a baby to an indian warrior) and a dried long-bean. The toy marked the lucky recipient, the king of the night, while the dried long-bean essencially marked the person who would provide next year’s cake.

    Bolo Rei is really, really big over here and Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it throughtout the country.

  29. Thanks for all of that good information, Mariana!

  30. You should use pixie sticks instead of coloured sugar :)

  31. Never had Kings Cake before. Can’t wait to give this recipe a try. Thanks for posting this.

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