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This king cake is a hand-braided sweet bread filled with cinnamon sugar and topped with a sweet icing glaze. Decorated in purple, green and gold sprinkled sugar, this king cake tis perfect for celebrating Mardi Gras.
Living in Louisiana, I got to experience Cajun food at it’s best. Crawfish boils, jambalaya, gumbo, and of course, the king cake. While most Americans are diving into a new fad diet in January, people in Louisiana are starting to celebrate Mardi Gras. Once those king cakes start appearing in grocery stores and bakeries, you forget about that diet!
Every gathering during Mardi Gras, someone brought a king cake. Vendors would drop off king cakes at our office, they filled our welcome table at church and if you had a party, you better be serving a king cake. My friend and I even had a pact that if we went to New Orleans, we had to stop by Randazzo’s and pick up king cakes for everyone.
What is a King Cake?
King Cake is served during the Mardi Gras season starting on January 6, also known as Epiphany. The original king cake, the “La Galette des Rois” is believed to have been brought over from France to New Orleans in 1870. Louisiana residents embraced the cake, making it their own style cake that you see today all over New Orleans and surrounding areas.
Today’s king cake is more of a sweet bread than an actual cake. It’s a yeast-enriched dough baked into a oval shape, filled with cinnamon sugar and topped with a sweet icing glaze. The taste is very similar to a cinnamon roll or a cinnamon swirl bread.
Most are decorated with Mardi Gras colors of green, gold and purple which represent faith, power and justice. You can get them at local grocery stores and bakeries such as Randazzo’s (my personal favorite) and Gambinos or you can make your own at home.
What Makes a Good King Cake?
During Mardi Gras, I got to try out several different king cakes from grocery stores, donut shops and the most famous bakeries. There is one however that stands out from the rest…that is Randazzo’s.
Some king cakes can unfortunately be a bit dry. Not their king cake, it’s so soft and pillow-y when you bite into it. And, their icing glaze is super thick, sticky and sweet. It’s hands down the best king cake in the area.
So that’s what I set out to create. I’ve been making king cakes for over 8 years and each year my recipe gets better and better. Well, I think I finally can say this is it folks. So set aside an afternoon to bake up this delicacy and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
King Cake Filling Ideas
There are many different variety of fillings such as cream cheese, fruit fillings, even maple bacon. This recipe is for the traditional brown sugar cinnamon filling. However, you can get creative with the fillings.
Most of the fruit fillings are paired with a sweetened cream cheese. If you’re doing a fruit filling, I suggest that you skip the braiding process. Just roll it up like a cinnamon roll and form an oval. All the fillings will leak out to some degree but the heavier fillings tend to leak out more when you braid them.
How to Make a King Cake
Make the Dough
- Dry ingredients: For the dough, you will be adding in the flour in increments so pay attention to the recipe. Start with a stand mixer and add 2 cups of flour, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl.
- Wet ingredients: In a saucepan, heat milk and water over the stovetop on low heat until it reaches 110°. It doesn’t take long to warm up to the temperature so watch it closely. You can also do this in a microwave if you prefer.
- Mix and add eggs: With your paddle attachment, turn the mixer to low (1) and slowly add the liquid to the dry ingredients until it incorporates. Next, add the egg and egg yolk will it’s still mixing on low speed. Then add one cup of flour until it is just incorporated. Now it’s time to switch to your dough hook.
- Add the butter: Turn the mixer to medium speed (4). Start adding the room temperature butter (in slices) to the dough. Wait until the butter is fully incorporated before adding the next piece.
- Knead the dough: Turn the mixer to low speed (1) and add the last 3/4 cup of flour to the dough. Increase the speed back to medium (4) and continue to beat the dough for 8 minutes. The dough will be sticky but it should come off the sides of the bowl. Knead the dough on a floured surface for another 2 minutes. Dust the surface with flour when it becomes to sticky.
Place the dough into a well-greased bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise for 1 hour or until it doubles in size. When it gets close to the 1 hour mark, start making the filling. Melt the butter, add the cinnamon and sugars.
Filling & Braiding
On a floured surface, roll the dough into a large rectangle about 20 inches x 20 inches. Spread the filling on the top of the dough and gently rub it into the dough.
Cut the dough into 3 long strips lengthwise (about 3 inches wide). Roll each dough piece into a log and pinch the ends closed. This helps keep the filling in the king cake. At the top, pinch all 3 logs together and then begin to braid the three strips together. Start with the left, cross it over the middle log, then take the right log and cross it over the middle. When you get to the end, pinch the other end together so that it forms an oval ring.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and transfer to your dough ring to the sheet. If you don’t feel like braiding the dough, don’t cut them into strips and just simply roll it up like cinnamon rolls and form a oval.
Second Proof & Bake
Cover the king cake with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise for 30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C fan. Mix an egg in a small bowl and brush the top of the dough with an egg wash.
Bake for 20 minutes on 375°F/190°C fan. If the top is golden brown and bottom is still not baked (it usually still needs more time), cover the top with foil and continue baking for another 5 minutes. Total time should not be longer than 25-28 minutes or you risk overbaking it.
Remove it from the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Then you can transfer it to a cooling wire rack.
Icing & Decorate
Now it’s almost ready for Mardi Gras! You just need to decorate with the Mardi Gras colors (purple, green and gold).
To make the icing, simply put the powdered sugar, lemon juice, corn syrup and milk into a bowl. Stir together with a spoon. If you don’t have light corn syrup, you can use agave as a substitute. You just want this to help thicken the icing so it doesn’t run off the king cake.
Next make the colored sugars. You can also use sprinkles. In 3 small bowls, fill them each with about 1/4 cup of sanding sugar. Add a drop of food coloring (purple, green and gold/yellow). Use the back of a spoon to work it into the sugar. You can do this ahead of time if you would like.
Once your king cake is cooled, use your hands to spread the icing around the cake. Yes, you heard me. I’ve watched videos from some of the famous bakeries and this is how they do it. It’s messy but effective.
You can also add a plastic baby inside the bottom of the king cake. The person who gets the baby, has to bring the next king cake to the event. Or in this case, be the next one to bake the king cake.
Tools Used to Make this King Cake
Here are a few “tools” that I used to make this king cake:
If you like this recipe, check out my other recipes inspired by Louisiana:
With all this hard work, you’ve earned a big slice of this king cake. I hope you enjoy it and get to have a little fun this Mardi Gras season.
Mardi Gras King Cake
For the Dough:
- 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour (510 grams)
- 1/4 cup sugar (50 grams)
- 1 teaspoon salt (6 grams)
- 1 packet instant yeast (7 grams)
- 1/2 cup milk (115 ml)
- 1/2 cup water (115 ml)
- 5 tablespoons butter (71 grams)
- 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
For the Filling:
- 1/4 cup melted butter (56 grams)
- 1/2 cup sugar (110 grams)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar (100 grams)
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon (8 grams)
For the Icing:
- 2 cups powered sugar (225 grams)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup or agave
- 2 tablespoons milk
For the Sugars:
- 3/4 cup sanding sugar (1/4 cup per color)
- Food coloring
Make the dough:
- Note: You will add in the flour in increments so pay close attention to the amount.
- Combine 2 cups (270g) of flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a bowl of a stand mixer.
- In a small saucepan, heat milk and water over the stovetop on low heat until 110°. It doesn't take long to warm up to the temperature so watch it closely.
- With a paddle attachment, turn the mixer to low (1) and slowly add the liquid to the dry ingredients until it incorporates.
- Add the egg and egg yolk still mixing on low speed.
- Add one cup (136 grams) of flour until it is just incorporated and then switch to a dough hook.
- Beat on medium speed (4) for one minute and then start adding the room temperature butter in slices to the dough. Wait until the butter is fully incorporated before adding the next butter slice.
- On low speed (1), add the remaining 3/4 cup (104g) of flour to the dough.
- Increase the speed back to medium (4) and continue to beat the dough for another 8 minutes. The dough will be sticky but should come off the sides of the bowl.
- On a floured surface, knead the dough for another 2 minutes, dusting the surface again with flour when it becomes too sticky. The dough will be elastic and slightly sticky. Place dough into a well-greased bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap.
- Let the dough rise for 1 hour or until it has doubled in size. Right before it has finished rising, begin making the filling.
Make the Filling & Assemble
- In a bowl, melt the butter and then add the sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon to the butter.
- On a floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle about 13 inches x 17 inches.
- Spread the filling on the top of the dough and gently rub it into the dough.
- Cut the dough into 3 long strips lengthwise (about 4 inches wide). Roll each dough piece into a log and pinch the ends closed. At the top, pinch all 3 logs together and then begin to braid the three strips together. Start with the left, cross it over the middle log, then take the right log and cross it over the middle. When you get to the end, pinch the other end together so that it forms an oval ring.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and transfer to your dough ring to the sheet. Cover it with a kitchen towel and let the dough rise for 30 minutes.
- While it is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C fan.
- Brush the top of the dough with an egg wash and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, if the top is golden brown and bottom is still not baked, cover the top with foil and continue baking for another 5 minutes. Be careful not to overbake.
- After it is cooked, allow it to cool for about 10 minutes on the baking sheet before moving it to a wire cooling rack.
Make the Icing & Decorate:
- In a small mixing bowl, all the powdered sugar, lemon juice, corn syrup and milk. Stir until combined.
- Add 1/4 cup of sugar to 3 separate bowls. Add a drop of purple, green and yellow/gold food coloring to the sugar. Use the back of a spoon to mix together.
- When the cake has cooled, add the icing to the top of the cake and then sprinkle with sugars. Tip: Use your hands to spread the icing around the cake. It's messy, but the best way to cover it evenly.