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king cake on a large round plate
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5 from 2 votes

Mardi Gras King Cake Recipe

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!
Prep Time55 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time1 hr 25 mins
Course: Bread
Cuisine: American
Keyword: king cake, king cake recipe
Servings: 16 slices
Calories: 250kcal
Author: Emma

Ingredients

For the Dough

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
  • 3 tablespoons lard
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 4 cups + 2 tablespoons bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons fine salt
  • 3 teaspoons fast-action yeast
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest from 1 medium lemon

For the Filling

  • ½ cup light brown sugar packed
  • 2 teaspoons ground Saigon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter melted

For the Icing

  • 1 ½ cups icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
  • Green yellow, and purple colored sugar for decoration

Instructions

Making the Dough

  • Dump the butter, lard, and milk into a small saucepan and put over medium heat until melted.  Let the mixture cool to 115°F.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon until well blended.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sprinkle with purple, yellow, and green sugar to decorate.  Use pieces of plastic wrap to keep the sections distinct.
  • Slice the king cake and serve at room temperature with butter.  Don't forget to place a baby Jesus beside the cake!

Notes

  • 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 ¾ 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 250kcal | Carbohydrates: 46g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 44mg | Sodium: 315mg | Potassium: 99mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 22g | Vitamin A: 302IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 42mg | Iron: 1mg