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Fat Tuesday isn’t complete without a King Cake recipe. This homemade King Cake is like a supersized cinnamon roll, dressed up for Mardi Gras.

A king cake surrounded Mardi Gras decorations.

Now synonymous with Mardi Gras, the first King Cake recipes were baked in Europe to commemorate Three Kings Day on January 6 for the Catholic Epiphany. This day celebrates the three wise men who visited baby Jesus in his manger with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

French settlers brought King Cake with them to Louisiana in the late 1800s, and it’s now a seasonal staple from January through Fat Tuesday (until Lent begins) at bakeries and restaurants, especially in the French Quarter.

Five pieces of king cake on silver plates on a table.

So what is a King Cake, exactly? Think of it like a supersized cinnamon roll that’s turned on its side and stretched into a circular, crown-shaped pastry. Some King Cakes are bread-like, as mine is, while others are cake-like; nearly all versions are decorated with frosting and purple, yellow, and green sprinkles. Those colors aren’t random: green represents faith, purple symbolizes power, and yellow is said to foster justice.

One other essential “ingredient” in every King Cake recipe? A plastic baby. Some say it’s there to represent Jesus, while others see it as a symbol of luck. Either way, the lucky diner who finds the baby inside their slice is deemed “royalty” for the day.

If you ask me, anyone who gets a slice of this delicious cake recipe is a lucky one!

Table of Contents
  1. Recipe ingredients
  2. Ingredient and equipment notes
  3. Step-by-step instructions
  4. Recipe tips and variations
  5. Recipe FAQs
  6. King Cake Recipe

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for king cake.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient and equipment notes

  • Active dry yeast: Find this in little packets or jars at the store in the baking aisle. If you already have some, make sure it’s active and hasn’t expired. If you buy the jar, store it indefinitely in the freezer after opening.
  • All purpose flour or bread flour: Bread flour has slightly more protein than all purpose flour. That means bread flour can absorb more water, resulting in a more elastic dough and a chewier, lighter, finished product. All purpose works just fine if that’s what you have handy, however.
  • Almond extract: Or Vanilla Extract; either will do to scent the frosting.
  • Colored sprinkles: Look for sanding sugars in yellow, purple, and green in the baking aisle or purchase a set online.
  • Plastic baby: If you don’t have one in a play set from your kids available to borrow, you can also purchase these online.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. To make the dough, in a small saucepan, heat water to 110-115 degrees. Stir in sugar until dissolved and remove from heat. Transfer to a measuring cup, stir in yeast, and set aside to bloom until foamy and bubbling, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Activating yeast for King Cake.
  1. In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attached, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, milk, butter, eggs, and yeast mixture. Stir until the dough just comes together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl but clinging to the bottom. about 4 to 5 minutes.
King cake dough in a silver mixing bowl.
  1. Coat a large bowl lightly with oil or nonstick spray. Transfer dough to the oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap coated with nonstick spray.
King cake dough in a clear bowl.
  1. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
King cake dough in a clear mixing bowl.
  1. While the dough is rising, mix the cinnamon filling. In a medium bowl, whisk together butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon until combined.
King cake filling in a clear bowl.
  1. Coat a baking sheet pan with nonstick spray. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 9-inch by 30-inch rectangle.
King cake dough rolled out into a long rectangle.
  1. Sprinkle filling to within ½ inch of the edge of the dough and press into an even layer.
King cake dough rolled out into a long rectangle with filling spread out on it.
  1. Using a bench scraper or metal spatula, loosen the dough from the counter if necessary.
Someone rolling king cake dough.
  1. Starting at a long edge of the rectangle, roll the dough to form a tight cylinder. Bring edges together, pinching the seams to make a ring.
King cake dough on a baking sheet.
  1. Cover with plastic wrap and let proof in a warm place (80 degrees to 85 degrees) until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
King cake dough on a baking sheet.
  1. While the cake is proofing the second time, make the icing. In a medium bowl, combine, powdered sugar almond extract, milk, and stir until smooth. Set aside.
Icing in a clear bowl with a spoon resting in it.
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake cake until golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Switch the positions and rotate the orientation of the sheet halfway through baking time.
A king cake on a baking sheeet.
  1. Make small slit on the bottom of the cake and push plastic baby in.
Someone stuffing a baby into a king cake.
  1. Drizzle with icing.
Someone drizzling icing over a king cake on a baking sheet.
  1. Sprinkle the colored sugar sprinkles over the icing alternating between green, purple, and yellow.
Someone sprinkling colored sugar over a king cake.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This King Cake recipe makes 12 generous slices. (Make sure yours is nice and large so you have a better chance of finding the baby hiding inside!)
  • Storage: Wrap any leftover cake tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 5 days.
  • Make ahead: Do not make the filling or frosting in advance of baking the cake. If you make the cinnamon filling ahead of time it will get crusty, and the frosting will dry out.
  • Freezer: The cooled cake can be wrapped tightly in a double layer of aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Label and date, then freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature.
  • Blooming yeastIn this recipe, you add yeast to ¼ cup lukewarm water (110-115 degrees). At the end of 5-10 minutes, the yeast should look foamy. If it does not, the yeast isn’t alive and should be discarded. Yeast activates at 40 degrees and dies at 140 degrees.
  • Proofing the doughTurn your oven on to the lowest temperature it will go, usually 200 degrees. Once it reaches 110 degrees, turn the oven off. Place the dough in the oven and close the door. Opening the oven door will lower the heat a bit, and that’s okay (you’re aiming for 75 to 85 degrees).
A slice of king cake with a plastic baby popping out on a silver plate.

Recipe FAQs

Why is there a baby in King Cake?

The tiny plastic baby placed inside King Cake symbolizes Jesus and commemorates the Christian holiday Epiphany. If you find the baby in your slice of cake, you are known as the king of the day and you are required to host the celebration of Epiphany the following year.

What does King Cake taste like?

King cake tastes like a cinnamon roll or cinnamon-flavored sweet bread. King cakes may also be filled with other flavors such as sweetened cream cheese or pralines.

A slice of king cake with a plastic baby popping out on a silver plate.

Beignets

To celebrate Mardi Gras or any day, learn how to make beignets from scratch. This classic doughnut-like treat is the perfect pairing for a hot cup of coffee. Beignets are light, yeast dough-based fritters that…

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More Mardi Gras Recipes

A decorated king cake on a white counter surrounded by Mardi Gras decorations.

King Cake

Fat Tuesday isn't complete without a King Cake recipe. This homemade King Cake is like a supersized cinnamon roll, dressed up for Mardi Gras.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Proofing time 3 hrs
Total Time 3 hrs 30 mins
Servings 12 Servings
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Calories 336

Ingredients 

For the dough:

  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast 1 packet of active dry yeast (see note 1)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour (see note 2)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup milk warm
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter softened
  • 2 large eggs

For the cinnamon filling:

For the frosting:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (see note 3)
  • 2 tablespoons milk

For decorating:

  • 1 plastic baby
  • colored sugar sprinkles green, purple, and yellow

Instructions 

To make the dough:

  • In a small saucepan, heat water to 110-115 degrees. Stir in sugar until dissolved and remove from heat. Stir in yeast and set aside to bloom until foamy and bubbling, about 5 to 10 minutes.
  • In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attached, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, milk, butter, eggs, and yeast mixture. Stir until the dough just comes together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl but clinging to the bottom. about 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Coat a large bowl lightly with oil or nonstick spray. Transfer dough to the oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap coated with nonstick spray. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

To make the cinnamon filling:

  • While the dough is rising, mix the filling. In a medium bowl, whisk together butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon until combined.

To shape the dough:

  • Coat a baking sheet pan with nonstick spray. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 9-inch by 30-inch rectangle.
  • Sprinkle filling to within ½ inch of the edge of the dough and press into an even layer. Using a bench scraper or metal spatula, loosen the dough from the counter if necessary.
  • Starting at a long edge of the rectangle, roll the dough to form a tight cylinder. Bring edges together, pinching the seams to make a ring.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and let proof in a warm place (80 degrees to 85 degrees) until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

To make the frosting:

  • While the cake is proofing the second time, make the icing. In a medium bowl, combine, powdered sugar almond extract, milk, and stir until smooth. Set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake cake until golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Switch the positions and rotate the orientation of the sheet halfway through baking time.

To decorate the cake:

  • Make small slit on the bottom of the cake and push plastic baby in. Drizzle with icing, sprinkle the colored sugar sprinkles over the icing alternating between green, purple, and yellow.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Active dry yeast: Find this in little packets or jars at the store in the baking aisle. If you already have some, make sure it’s active and hasn’t expired. If you buy the jar, store it indefinitely in the freezer after opening.
  2. All purpose flour or bread flour: Bread flour has slightly more protein than all purpose flour. That means bread flour can absorb more water, resulting in a more elastic dough and a chewier, lighter, finished product. All purpose works just fine if that’s what you have handy, however.
  3. Almond extract: Or Vanilla Extract; either will do to scent the frosting.
  4. Yield: This King Cake recipe makes 12 generous slices. (Make sure yours is nice and large so you have a better chance of finding the baby hiding inside!)
  5. Storage: Wrap any leftover cake tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 5 days.
  6. Make ahead: Do not make the filling or frosting in advance of baking the cake. If you make the cinnamon filling ahead of time it will get crusty, and the frosting will dry out.

Nutrition

Serving: 1sliceCalories: 336kcalCarbohydrates: 49gProtein: 6gFat: 13gSaturated Fat: 8gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 63mgSodium: 221mgPotassium: 98mgFiber: 2gSugar: 24gVitamin A: 421IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 35mgIron: 2mg
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Executive Chef and CEO at | Website | + posts

Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.

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