Mardi Gras King Cake – Traditional New Orleans


The tradition that started in New Orleans has spread all over. This cake is traditionally enjoyed on Mardi Gras and is decorated with the traditional purple, green and yellow Mardi Gras colors. In the U.S., a little plastic baby doll is usually inside of the cake. Whoever gets the piece with the baby in it has to buy the cake next year. If you want to be safe (the baby is a choking hazard!), buy a plastic baby too big to swallow or you could use a bean like they do in Europe.


  • 1/2 cup warm water (110°-115°)
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup and 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups of sifted flour
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 10 tablespoons of softened butter
  • 1 egg slightly beaten with 1 tablespoon milk (egg wash)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 one inch plastic baby doll (optional and a choking hazard)
  • Colored Sugars:
  • Green, purple and yellow coloring paste
  • 12 tbsp sugar
  • King Cake Icing:
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 2 tbsp water


Step 1

Directions for the Cake:

Step 2

Pour the warm water into a small shallow bowl, and sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar into it. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for three minutes then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm place, for ten minutes or until yeast bubbles up and mixture almost doubles up in volume.

Step 3

Combine 3 1/2 cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt, and sift into a large mixing bowl. Stir in lemon zest. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture and milk. Add egg yolks and, using a wooden spoon, slowly combine dry ingredients into the yeast/milk mixture. When mixture is smooth, beat in 8 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time and continue to beat 2 minutes or until dough can be formed into a medium soft ball.

Step 4

Place ball of dough on a lightly floured surface and knead like bread. During this kneading, add up to 1 cup more of flour (1 tablespoon at a time) sprinkled over the dough, as needed. When dough is no longer sticky, knead 10 minutes more until shiny and elastic.

Step 5

Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of a large bowl evenly with one tablespoon softened butter. Place dough ball in the bowl and rotate until the entire surface is buttered. Cover bowl with a moderately thick kitchen towel and place in a draft free spot for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in volume.

Step 6

Using a pastry brush, coat a large baking sheet with one tablespoon of butter and set aside.

Step 7

Remove dough from bowl and place on lightly floured surface. Using your fist, punch dough down with a heavy blow. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top, pat and shake dough into a cylinder. Twist dough to form a curled cylinder and loop cylinder onto the buttered baking sheet. Pinch the ends together to complete the circle. Cover dough with towel and set it in draft free spot for 45 minutes until the circle of dough doubles in volume.

Step 8

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Step 9

Brush top and sides of cake with the egg wash and bake on middle rack of oven for 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown.

Step 10

Remove cake from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. If desired, you can "hide" the plastic baby in the cake. The one who finds the baby in the piece of the cake is responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next Mardi Gras party.

Step 11

Directions for Colored sugars:

Step 12

Squeeze a dot of green paste in palm of hand. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons sugar over the paste and rub together quickly. Set aside on wax paper and wash hands to remove color. Repeat process for other 2 colors.

Step 13

Directions for Icing:

Step 14

Combine sugar and water until smooth. If icing is too stiff, slowly add more water until spreadable. Spread icing over top of warm cake. Immediately sprinkle the colored sugars in individual rows consisting of about 2 rows of green, purple and yellow. Cake is served in 2" - 3" pieces.


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Kaplan, Louisiana Louisiana
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