The King of Cakes

I’ve been seeing these king cakes all over the internet and Facebook. The colors are so pretty and they really look delicious! 

All that sugar mixed with the colored icing….who can resist? And every time I see a picture of one, I keep thinking “maybe I could do that!”

Yeah. Right. But then again….At least it’s not a cake that has to be decorated perfectly with icing….that’s just not something I do well.

I researched quite a bit to try to find all the history of this sugary concoction, and really didn’t find any in depth history like I’d expected. 

The King cake tradition was started in France and brought to New Orleans in 1870. According to, the cake actually got its start in the Middle Ages, made in Europe to celebrate Epiphany (January 6), which is also known as Three Kings Day, a celebration of the day when the three Wise Men were said to have visited Baby Jesus and given him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. What happened in between that time with the cake, I still haven’t found out.

But when the French came to Louisiana in 1870, they brought the tradition of the King Cake with them, and it’s been a part of Mardi Gras ever since, and not limited to New Orleans. It’s seasonal, like the Hot Cross Buns at Easter, and it goes away on Ash Wednesday, since good Catholics are traditionally giving up something at the start of Lent. (But for us non-Catholics, I think we can still eat the leftovers.)

As most of you may know, the cake is usually made from a yeast dough with various fillings, cinnamon, chocolate, or cream cheese. Traditionally, the cake is also baked with a miniature plastic baby inside, which traditionally symbolizes Baby Jesus. When the cake is served, the person who finds the baby in their slice of cake is the one who is supposed to provide the king cake for next year’s festivities.

The cake is colorfully decorated, with icing or glaze and sanded sugars or sprinkles in alternating colors of purple, which signifies “justice; green for “faith”; and gold for “power.” Many times the cakes are decorated with paper crowns and/or the traditional Mardi Gras beads in those same colors.

Now I do like to bake as you all know, and I do enjoy making my mother’s cinnamon buns every holiday, and a few other times during the year, so I’m thinking I can probably make one of these as well.

I guess we’ll just have to see. And here’s the recipe I’m going to try, which comes from Betty So we’ll just have to see what happens. The directions seem long, but based on what I do with my cinnamon buns, it really shouldn’t be that bad.

New Orleans King Cake

  • 3 1/2 c all purpose flour
  • 1 pkg Rapid Rise yeast
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tbl unsalted butter, softened, cut in 12 pieces
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 tbl unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbl milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • colored sugars and food coloring
  • 1 miniature plastic baby (from a craft store in the baby shower section)

Mix 2 1/2 c flour and yeast in mixing bowl of your KitchenAid, using paddle attachment on low for about 30 seconds.

Heat 1 cup milk, sugar and salt in small saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and milk is between 120-130 degrees.

With mixer on low, pour in liquid and mix. Add eggs one at a time Continue mixing until a shaggy dough forms. Clean off paddle and switch to a dough hook (which I’ve never used before but have been wanting to try). Mix in remaining 1 cup flour as needed to make a soft dough. Add softened butter, one piece at a time, kneading until each piece is absorbed.

Knead 8 minutes on low until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. If too sticky, add additional flour, 1 tbl at a time.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times by hand. Form dough into a ball. Place dough into a greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

While dough is chilling, make cinnamon filling. In small bowl combine brown sugar and cinnamon. Combine the 4 tbl butter and mix well.

Roll chilled dough into a 10×20 rectangle. Spread filling on half of long side of dough, Fold dough in half covering the filling and pat down firmly so the dough will stick together; Cut dough into three long strips. Press tops of the strips together and braid. Press ends together at bottom. Genty stretch braid so it measures 20 inches. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise til doubled, about an hour.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place dough on cookie sheet and bake til golden brown, 20-30 minutes. remove from oven and let cool 10 min. Then place on cooling rack to cool completely. To hide baby in the cake, make a small slit in the bottom of the cake and put in after cake has cooled.

While cake is cooling, make icing. Mix powdered sugar, 1 tbl milk and vanilla until smooth. Add more milk if mixture is too thick or powdered sugar if too thin. Separate into 3 small bowls and food coloring to desired tint, Spoon icing over top of cake and immediately sprinkle on colored sugar and/or sprinkles, alternating the colors.

I really do hope it’s as simple as it sounds. Well, simple is probably a relative term, but we’ll see. Maybe.

However…if this seems way too much work, here’s a shortcut version. i may try this first!

Super Easy King Cake

  • 3 14 oz cans refrigerated sweet roll dough
  • 2 12 oz cans creamy vanilla ready to spread froting
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • food coloring and sanding sugar and sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking sheet.

Open cans of sweet roll dough. Unroll dough from each can into 3 strands. On clean surface place strands side by side gather together to make one large strand. Fold in half and roll slightly to make a fat log. Repeat steps with remaining dough.

Place each log on baking sheet and shape to make a ring, overlapping the ends and pinching together to make a circle. Pat into shape to make ring even in size all around. cover loosely with foil.

Bake in preheated oven until firm and golden brown, 50-60 minutes. check oftem to be sure ring doesn’t overbake. Place on wire rack and cool completely.

Place on serving plate. Cut slit along inside of ring and insert the tiny plastic baby pushing in far enough to be hidden.

Divide frosting into 4 bowls. Stir 1 tbl milk into each to thin. Use frosting in one bowl to drizzle over cooked cake. stir yellow food coloring in one bowl. green in another. Use red and blue in lat bowl to make purple. drizzle onto cake to make pattern. Dust with sugar and sprinkles.

I think I’m trying this one first. How about you?

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