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slice of king cake on a plate

Mardi Gras King Cake Recipe

  • Author: Emma
  • Prep Time: 55 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours 55 minutes
  • Yield: 16 slices 1x


King cake, a delicious variation of cinnamon rolls, is served at Mardi Gras and Epiphany.  You don’t have to go to Louisiana to enjoy this soft, fluffy bread with a cinnamon filling and lemon icing.  Making this traditional New Orleans dessert from scratch is actually really easy!



For the Bread Dough

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (43g)
  • 3 tablespoons lard (30g)
  • 3/4 cup whole milk (177 ml)
  • 4 cups + 2 tablespoons bread flour (500g)
  • 2 teaspoons fine salt (10g)
  • 3 teaspoons fast-action yeast (10g)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar (50g)
  • 2 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from 1 medium lemon)

For the Filling

  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed (100g)
  • 2 teaspoons ground Saigon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted (14g)

For the Icing

  • 1 1/2 cups icing sugar (165g)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
  • Green, yellow, and purple colored sugar for decoration


Making the Dough (25 min + 1 hr proving)

  1. Dump the butter, lard, and milk into a small saucepan and put over medium heat until melted.  Let the mixture cool to 115 F.
  2. Pour the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl, then stir in each one with your finger.
  3. Add the sugar, butter, lard, eggs, and lemon zest and mix on low speed until combined, then gradually trickle in the warm milk until a soft, slightly sticky dough has formed.
  4. Switch attachments to the dough hook and knead on medium-low speed for 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and isn't sticky to the touch.  It should also pass the windowpane test.  Check this by breaking off a lump of dough and stretching it between your hands to form a windowpane.  If the dough can stretch to be translucent without breaking, it's kneaded enough; if not, knead for a minute longer and check again.
  5. Shape into a ball, place in a buttered bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Set aside to prove in a warm place until almost doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Shaping the King Cake (15 min + 45 min proving)

  1. Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon until well blended.
  2. Punch down the dough, then roll out to a 24x8-inch rectangle. Brush with the melted butter and spread the cinnamon-sugar mixture evenly on top.
  3. Roll up the dough tightly from one of the long sides, pinching the seam and ends to seal. Shape the log into a circle, squeezing the ends firmly together.
  4. Place on a 11x17-inch cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap and let prove again in a warm place until springy to the touch, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Baking & Decorating the King Cake (30 min baking + 45 min cooling + 15 min decorating)

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  2. Stack the cookie sheet on top of another one and bake at 375 F for 30 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown and has an internal temperature of 190 F.  Let cool completely on a wire rack, about 45 minutes.
  3. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and mix with the lemon juice and milk to form a thick icing.  Spread it on top of the cooled king cake and let it set for 3 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with purple, yellow, and green sugar to decorate.  Use pieces of plastic wrap to keep the sections distinct.
  5. Slice the king cake and serve at room temperature with butter.  Don't forget to place a baby Jesus beside the cake!


  • Always use bread flour, not all-purpose, for the best rise and texture.
  • Slow rising dough? Put it in a cold oven with a pan of boiling water on the shelf underneath.
  • For a gooey filling, use 3/4 cup (150g) of brown sugar and 4 tablespoons (57g) of softened butter.  Feel free to add an extra teaspoon of cinnamon.
  • Let it cool completely before putting on the glaze, or it may absorb it!
  • Keep the baby Jesus separate so it's not a choking hazard for young children.
  • Category: Bread
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: recipe, new orleans