This king cake recipe is easier than you might think. You can celebrate Mardi Gras no matter where you live and eat king cake fresh!
Mardi Gras is a big deal here in the southern states and king cake is part of a weekly diet from the beginning of January until the eve of Mardi Gras. My recipe for homemade king cake looks long but it is really very easy!
What is King Cake?
A traditional king cake is a royal looking pastry adorned with beads and jewels to celebrate the coming of the three kings. The standard flavor is a cinnamon roll dough topped with purple, green and gold sugar icing, but you can now find a bunch of delicious variations like cream cheese fillings, fruit fillings, and pecan praline!
Some of the local bakeries have their creative variations from king cake donuts to king cake burgers. I even have a king cake candy recipe! Follow me on Instagram (@seededtable) for more fun recipe inspiration!
King Cake is one of the age-old recipes associated with the Carnival season. Traditionally, a plastic baby or small bean is hidden inside the cake where the person who ends up with the piece with the trinket either is favored with good luck or must provide the next king cake (whichever the party decides). You can read more about the history of Mardi Gras and King Cake here.
King Cake Recipe
What if you do not live in the south where you can get your hands on a freshly baked king cake? After living in Mississippi for 9 years, we grew accustomed to the Mardi Gras traditions and I make my own homemade king cake!
The recipe looks long but is really very simple. I'm even showing you how you can EASILY make your own colored sugar!
Click here for how to make king cake recipe.
How to Make Colored Sugar
- Use three separate small bowls.
- Place ½ cup of sugar into each bowl.
- Drop green food coloring in one bowl, yellow in another, and purple in the last. (Or a combination of red and blue to make purple.)
- Stir each bowl of sugar until the color evenly mixes.
- Use the back of a small rubber spatula to grind the sugar granules against the sides of the bowl for even coating until there are no clumps.
- Voila! You have three different colors of sugar to sprinkle on your king cake!
My kids love king cake and we enjoy slices of it throughout the carnival season. It is a soft dough but is best eaten within the first few days. You can always freshen it up in the microwave past then, though!
This recipe was originally published February 2012 and updated February 2021.
Mardi Gras King Cake
For the dough:
- ¼ cup warm water
- .25 ounce instant yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
- 5 Tablespoons granulated sugar , divided
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- Pinch of salt
- 8 ounces sour cream
- 1 egg
- 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour , more or less
- Oil for hands and bowl
For the filling:
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter , melted
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
For the colored sugars:
- 1 ½ cups granulated or superfine sugar , divided
- Food coloring yellow, green, purple (or a combination of blue and red to make purple)
For the icing:
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter , melted
- 4 Tablespoons whole milk or heavy cream
To make the dough:
- In a mixing bowl, combine the warm water, yeast and 1 Tablespoon of the granulated sugar; set aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter, 4 Tablespoons of the sugar and the salt while constantly stirring. Once the butter is melted, stir in the sour cream and heat to luke warm.
- Whisk the sour cream mixture into the yeast mixture along with the egg and 1 cup of the flour. Using an oiled wooden spoon, fold in small amounts of the remaining flour until a soft dough is formed (about another 2 cups of flour). The dough should be tacky, but not sticky.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. With lightly floured hands, knead dough until elastic, about 5 to 10 minutes. (Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment and knead 5 minutes, adding tablespoons more flour as necessary.)
- Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to a bowl sprayed with oil, flipping the dough once to coat with oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free area until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a giant rectangle, about 16 inches by 12 inches wide. Do not spread too thin.
For the filling:
- In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, cinnamon and sugar until fully incorporated. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.
- Tightly roll the dough from the long side jellyroll-style and pinch the seams tight. Carefully transfer the roll to a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Make sure the roll is seam-side down. Pull the ends together to form an oval, then press to completely seal the shape.
- Cover the cake with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise for another 30 minutes. During this second rise, preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Remove the kitchen towel and bake the cake in the center of the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before icing.
For the colored sugars:
- While the cake is cooling, make the colored sugars. Place ½ cup of sugar into three separate small bowls. Drop green food coloring into one bowl and stir until evenly mixed and colored. Use the back of a small spatula or spoon to grind the sugar granules together and against the bowl for even coating, until there are no clumps. Repeat for the other two bowls of sugar to create one bowl of yellow sugar and one bowl of purple sugar (a mix of red and blue food coloring).
For the icing:
- Once the cake is completely cooled, make the icing. Whisk together the powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, melted butter and milk until smooth. The icing should be at a consistency where it can easily drizzle onto the cake, but not run completely off of it. Whisk in more powdered sugar to thicken, or more milk to thin.
- Transfer the cake to serving platter. (At this point, you can stick a little plastic baby in through the bottom of the cake if you wish to carry on this Mardi Gras tradition. This is completely optional and be sure to take precautions to avoid choking.) Slide pieces of wax paper under the sides of the cake so that it can catch any overflow of icing or sprinkles of sugar, but make sure the wax paper can easily be removed.
- Drizzle the icing evenly over the cake and allow to ooze down the sides and middle. Immediately (before the icing has a chance to set) sprinkle the colored icing in rotating strips of the three colors. Work this step speedily, as the icing sets very quickly. Slide the wax paper pieces out from under the cake and discard.
- Slice and serve! Store at room temperature for up to 3 days.
- Nutrition information is an estimate only, based on 10 servings.