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King Cake History – What Is It, Why Is It So Delicious and How Can I Make One?

Mardi Gras King Cake
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If you’re going to have a party like Mardi Gras, you’re going to need a cake, and if you have to have only one kind of cake during Mardi Gras, you can’t go wrong with a King Cake.

If you’ve never had one, imagine a massive, braided cinnamon roll covered in icing, sugar and sprinkles and filled with Bavarian crème, cream cheese or fruit filling. You slice it up, and enjoy.

But there can be a game to be played, too. In the most recent King Cake tradition, a plastic baby figurine (which represents the Baby Jesus, by the way) is hidden somewhere within the cake. If you find it (chew carefully, now) the custom here is that you buy the next King Cake or host the next Mardi Gras party.

In some other areas of the world, different trinkets other than a plastic baby (like a king figurine) can be put into the cake. In some areas, finding the trinket means different things. Sometimes you get a reward, or sometimes you’re required to fulfill an obligation.

Traditionally, the King Cake was eaten on Twelfth Night, and it was a simple brioche ring sprinkled with sugar. But today, it’s made with Danish dough, you can practically get one 365 days a year. When you buy a King Cake nowadays, the baby can be found outside of the cake to prevent any choking hazards. Whether or not you put the figurine in the cake is up to you.

Now, you can get a King Cake in just about every South Louisiana supermarket or bakery, but if you want to give a try yourself, we’ve got a little recipe that might help. We’ll give you a warning, though – it’s labor intensive, so if you have a bread machine, it will make your life easier

King Cake Recipe

  • 1/2 warm water (110 degrees F.)
  • 1/2 cup warm milk (110 degrees F.)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 5 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 4 3/4 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons instant active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tiny (1-inch) plastic doll

Place all ingredients in bread pan according to manufacturer’s instructions; select dough setting and press start. NOTE: Check the dough (don’t be afraid to open the lid). It should form a nice elastic ball. If you think the dough is too moist, add additional flour (a tablespoon at a time). The same is true if the dough is looking dry and gnarly. Add warm water (a tablespoon at a time).

When dough cycle has finished, remove dough from pan and put into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in a draft free place to rise for approximately 1 hour or until the dough doubles in volume.

Lightly coat a large baking sheet with butter or vegetable spray; set aside.

Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly-oiled surface. Using your fist, punch dough down with a heavy blow. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top, pat and shape dough into a cylinder. Twist dough to form a curled cylinder and loop cylinder onto the buttered baking sheet. Pinch the ends together to form a circle. Cover dough with plastic wrap and let sit for approximately 45 minutes or until the dough doubles in volume.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Brush top and sides of cake with egg white wash and bake on middle rack of oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. (A good check is to use an instant thermometer to test your bread. The temperature should be between 200 and 210 degrees.) Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. If desired, at this time, you can hide the plastic doll in the cake.

Colored Sugars:

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Green, purple, and yellow coloring paste

Squeeze a dot of paste in palm of hand. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over the paste and rub together quickly. Place this mixture on wax paper and wash hands to remove color.

Repeat process for other two colors; set aside.

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