King Cake for Mardi Gras

As you may know, it is Mardi Gras time in New Orleans.  You may also know that we just returned from a trip to New Orleans this past weekend and would really like to go back for another adventure. One can never have too much fun!

I will be writing a series of articles on New Orleans over the next couple of weeks.  Of course, I had to include a recipe for King Cake in the middle of this series since King Cake is a Mardi Gras tradition.  If you are joining in on the festivities, you you will want to have one of these cakes on hand for Fat Tuesday next week. You can certainly buy one, but what’s the fun in doing that?

This was my first time baking a King Cake and if I say so myself, I think it looks pretty good!  How could homemade, sweet yeast bread filled with brown sugar, butter, pecans and cinnamon which is then rolled into a coffeecake, baked and topped with icing be bad? It can’t! This was scrumptious!

Since the Bunkycooks don’t need any more cakes or pastries sitting on our waistlines and hips, I took one of the King Cakes to a pot luck dinner the other evening. This recipe makes two cakes, so the other…well…I won’t tell if you don’t! 😉

You can find the complete history of the tradition of the King Cake at the Mardi Gras Digest.  According to Wikipedia, “The “king cake” takes its name from the biblical three kings. Catholic tradition states that their journey to Bethlehem took twelve days (the Twelve Days of Christmas), and that they arrived to honor the Christ Child on Epiphany.  The season for king cake extends from the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas (Twelfth Night and Epiphany Day), through to Mardi Gras day. Some organizations or groups of friends may have “king cake parties” every week through the Carnival season.

I love my Mardi Gras beads with the mask!

The choosing of King and Queen from the cake, usually by the inclusion of a bean and a pea, was a traditional English Twelfth Night festivity.  In the southern United States, the tradition was brought to the area by colonists from France and Spain and it is associated with Carnival, which is celebrated in the Gulf Coast region, centered on New Orleans, but ranging from the Florida Panhandle to East Texas. King cake parties in New Orleans are documented back to the eighteenth century.  It has become customary in the New Orleans culture that whoever finds the trinket must provide the next king cake or host the next Mardi Gras party.”

The “trinket” that is most suggested to put into the cake is a small, plastic baby. Of course, the day I was looking for one of these babies, there were none to be found, so I used a whole pecan (which is also a suggestion in some recipes). You just might want to warn someone that they could brake a tooth on one of these little surprises in their King Cake.

If you are not in the mood to throw a Mardi Gras party or are not interested in all of the tradition and just want to make this cake because it is sooo good, I suggest that whoever gets the baby, nut or other trinket throws a Mardi Gras party (so you don’t have to), hosts some kind of shindig or picks up the tab for dinner! That works, don’t you think? 😉

Would you like a slice or two?

Bon Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras King Cake

Recipe courtesy of


1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup melted butter

1 cup confectioners' sugar (I used 2 cups)
1 tablespoon water (I used about 2 1/2 tablespoons total)


For pastry:
Scald milk, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

For filling:
Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.

To assemble:
Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10x16 inches or so). Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 oval shaped rings. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Push the doll into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm with the confectioners' sugar blended with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.
Note: My cakes took about 25 minutes to bake. I covered them with aluminum foil at about 15 minutes to avoid excessive browning.

Note: When you are ready to ice the cakes, you might want to make the icing seperate for each cake, especially if you are going to sprinkle them with colored sugars. The icing hardens pretty quickly.


62 Responses to “King Cake for Mardi Gras”

  1. 1

    Monet — March 2, 2011 @ 12:08 am

    This looks and sounds FAR better than any king cake I’ve ever eaten. I wish I had more time this week..I would make one of these! I’m bookmarking it for next year though. Thanks for sharing, sweet woman. I hope you have a great Wednesday. Happy Hump Day!

    • Gwen replied: — March 2nd, 2011 @ 9:59 am

      Hi Monet,

      Thanks so much! This was a very good recipe and worked quite well, so you should definitely try it next year. Happy hump day to you as well! It’s been quite the week (for you, too).


  2. 2

    JodieMo — March 2, 2011 @ 7:55 am

    That looks so delicious. Why don’t you bring me a slice? I don’t mind helping you eat that second cake as long as I don’t have to flash you for it. :) Happy Mardi Gras!

    • Gwen replied: — March 2nd, 2011 @ 10:01 am


      I would bring you a slice, but it is all gone! I wish I could be there for all the Mardi Gras festivities! We would all have quite the time.


  3. 3

    Suzanne — March 2, 2011 @ 8:46 am

    that is one great looking king cake in fact the best I’ve ever seen around here. Did you hide the plastic baby inside? Great photos too, glad you all had a good trip :)

    • Gwen replied: — March 2nd, 2011 @ 10:02 am

      Hi Suzanne,

      Thank you. No baby. I couldn’t find anything small enough. I used a whole pecan instead. The trip was so much fun I am ready to go back!


  4. 4

    The Mom Chef — March 2, 2011 @ 8:50 am

    That may be the best looking king cake I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing. Even the inside looks more moist and tender than most (which are just lumps of dry yeast bread). Wow.

    • Gwen replied: — March 2nd, 2011 @ 10:03 am

      Thank you. I read reviews of a few recipes that said they were dry, but this one had positive feedback. I must say that I agree. It was very moist. A must do again, for sure!

  5. 5

    Becky — March 2, 2011 @ 9:24 am

    Your King Cake is gorgeous and on a first try. Kudos to you. The only thing that I’ve made with yeast is King Cake, believe it or not. You beat me to the post. I’ll be making my post soon. You have set bar pretty high:)

    • Gwen replied: — March 2nd, 2011 @ 10:03 am

      Thank you, Becky. I can’t wait to see your version! I am sure it turned out great.

  6. 6

    Kath — March 2, 2011 @ 9:33 am

    Great info about King Cake! Most do not look appealing to me, but yours looks absolutely great! Well done!

    • Gwen replied: — March 2nd, 2011 @ 10:04 am

      Hi Kath,

      It is an interesting story behind the King Cake. There are so many great traditions in New Orleans and Mardi Gras is certainly one of them!


  7. 7

    Jane Nellums — March 2, 2011 @ 9:57 am

    Ms. Bunkycooks, this looks so good, can’t wait to try this for my up coming
    company. Wow! Thanks for sharing beautiful pictures, hope mine looks that
    Have a great Day!

    • Gwen replied: — March 2nd, 2011 @ 10:20 am

      Hi Jane,

      Thanks! If I had some leftover I would share it with you, but we ate it all! 😉 I am sure you will do a great job making the King Cake!


  8. 8

    Lori @ RecipeGirl — March 2, 2011 @ 9:57 am

    Most gorgeous Mardi Gras cake I’ve seen. Fabulous job!

    • Gwen replied: — March 2nd, 2011 @ 7:21 pm

      Thank you, Lori! It was awfully good, too! :)

  9. 9

    Angela — March 2, 2011 @ 10:02 am

    This looks delicious! Heading to NoLa myself this weekend and really looking forward to reading your recap!

  10. 10

    Gwen — March 2, 2011 @ 10:20 am

    Thank you, Lori! It was awfully good, too! :)

  11. 11

    Amelia from Z Tasty Life — March 2, 2011 @ 10:37 am

    fun, jolly and sophisticated decorations, almost too gorgeous to eat! Looks delicious too!

  12. 12

    Debi (Table Talk) — March 2, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

    I’ll say you did a pretty good job with this cake–it’s gorgeous! Much better than the bakery versions. What fun! Can’t wait to hear more about your trip.

  13. 13

    Kimmy @ Lighter and Local — March 2, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

    I’m definitely tackling a King Cake this year. I meant to do it last year and ran out of time. This looks like a perfect recipe to try out!

  14. 14

    Krista — March 2, 2011 @ 10:50 pm

    Absolutely love all the fantastic colors in this post. :-) Those lavender shutters are so pretty and that lamp post makes me smile. :-)

  15. 15

    redkathy — March 2, 2011 @ 11:40 pm

    Pretty darn good you say? Gwen OMG that cake marvelous!!! I’ve not experienced a King Cake yet. Shame on me.

  16. 16

    SMITH BITES — March 3, 2011 @ 7:35 am

    you would never know this is the first time you made a King Cake – i’d say you’ve got this down Gwen!!! loved reading this history of this cake and since i’ve not been to NOLA, this cake will have to do – spectacular!!!

  17. 17

    Denise@There's a Newf in My Soup! — March 3, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

    Absolutely stunning, colorful and festive post! The filling in your King Cake sounds so incredible. I’m kicking myself for not buying a mask and beads while we were there!

  18. 18

    Christine @ Fresh Local and Best — March 3, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

    This is certainly a beautiful cake! I like the colorful sugar sprinkles that you decorated it with. I also like that you used a pecan versus a plastic baby, it seems more natural. I’m looking forward to seeing more pictures from NOLA.

  19. 19

    Chef Dennis — March 4, 2011 @ 5:55 am

    hi Gwen

    what a perfect way to start the season, and what great images!!!
    I love your new design, its very clean , it has a good feel to it!
    congrats on your top 9 today!

  20. 20

    Becky — March 4, 2011 @ 7:12 am

    Congrats on the Top 9!

  21. 21

    Jill Colonna — March 4, 2011 @ 10:27 am

    Discovered your wonderful King Cake via Top 9 today. Congratulations! It looks so different to the King Cake in France which is served for Epiphany. Yours is just beautiful and love the tradition of party hosting!

  22. 22

    Denine — March 4, 2011 @ 11:10 am

    Your photos are so amazing, beautiful and helpful. The way you wrote out the recipe and added the photos make this even more enticing. I must try this!

  23. 23

    Sherry @JustAPinch — March 4, 2011 @ 11:34 am

    I’m from southern Louisiana, and I eat king cake every year. I don’t recall ever seeing one that makes as lovely a presentation as yours. I was just going to buy one, but now I’m eager to try your recipe! Happy Mardi Gras!

    Sherry Parfait

  24. 24

    Priscilla - She's Cookin' — March 4, 2011 @ 11:39 am

    I love hearing the history behind food traditions and I like your party idea even more :) This is the best looking King’s Cake I’ve ever seen! Congrats on the Top 9, Gwen. Have a fantastic weekend!

  25. 25

    Kim - Liv Life — March 4, 2011 @ 11:41 am

    What a beautiful cake!! I actually have one rising on my counter as I type. It’s our first attempt at the cake, and our filling is different, however I’m thinking I would have preferred yours! I just might have to make version 2…
    Nicely done! Congrats on the Top 9, your cake is beautiful!

  26. 26

    The Harried Cook — March 4, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

    That is a gorgeous King’s cake! I’m sure it tasted every bit as good as it looks! :)

    Congrats on Top 9!

  27. 27

    Claire — March 4, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

    YAY!! I’m making a king’s cake this weekend too, from that very same recipe! Except instead of sprinkling different colored sprinkles, I may make different colored icing! Fabulous!!

  28. 28

    Christina @ Sweet Pea's Kitchen — March 4, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

    Yummy!! Your king cake looks great! I posted a king cake recipe on my blog today too…I guess great minds think alike! 😉

  29. 29

    Charles — March 4, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

    Looks good! I especially like the idea of scoring the dough like you did!

  30. 30

    Cajun Chef Ryan — March 4, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

    I love the shaping you did on this one, and welcome to Nouvelle Orleans
    I just posted my updated King Cake recipe that I have been perfecting for over 30 years.

    Bon appetit!

  31. 31

    Claudie — March 4, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

    Pretty good isn’t enough to describe how great this cake looks! It’s really a work of art. I love the final icing touches… just beautiful!

  32. 32

    claudia lamascolo/aka pegasuslegend — March 4, 2011 @ 7:29 pm

    Gorgeous! Love this presentation… congrats on Top9 spectacular cake!

  33. 33

    Laura — March 4, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

    i am planning to make my first king cake this weekend for a variety of reasons, but i was not particularly looking forward to it until I saw yours! Your filling looks tremendous-I think I will steal it and use it instead of the cream cheese one that my recipe suggests!

  34. 34

    Julie — March 4, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

    Woah that looks GREAT! I love how the slits of the bread gives us a peak to the interior of the bread. Thanks for sharing. Julie

  35. 35

    ronnie — March 4, 2011 @ 8:58 pm

    Beautiful work – bet it tasted as good as it looked! Great photography (shout out to Mr. Bunkycooks!)

  36. 36

    Jess — March 5, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

    This looks awesome, my friend and I are making this for her French class for Tuesday!!

  37. 37

    Sandra@Sandra's Easy Cooking — March 7, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

    Wow just wowww..I am totally impressed!

  38. 38

    Erin @ epiCURIOUS ERIN — March 8, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

    This looks amazing. I had store bought king cake and enjoyed it, but this makes me yearn to make one of my own!

  39. 39

    Kat — March 8, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

    This looks fantastic. I’m making it literally right now – the dough is rising – and am pleasantly surprised that it makes two rings. Perfect! I’m not sure how I missed that fact, but it makes this all the better.

    Enjoy the day!

  40. 40

    Sandy@ Everyday Southwest — March 10, 2011 @ 3:30 am

    I’ve never been to Mardi Gras. Can you believe it? Love your posts on everything New Orleans!
    Congratulations on making the top 9!

  41. 41

    Jamie — March 16, 2011 @ 9:19 am

    For a first try this is one fabulous, perfect King’s Cake and a recipe I will definitely be trying. Perfect texture and love the filling.

  42. 42

    Kim — March 24, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

    I love the colors of Mardi Gras – and they’re beautiful in your cake! Any chance you know how long they keep? Like if I made one for myself on a Sunday afternoon, could I eat a slice every morning to get me through the whole week?! 😉


  43. 43

    Fran — February 22, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

    We have done it at home after your recipe… and tasted it delicious. One of them was literally devored by my students,
    x o f

    • Gwen replied: — February 22nd, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

      Hi Fran,

      I am so happy to hear that you had great success with the recipe and that it was thoroughly enjoyed! We thought it was excellent, too.


  44. 44

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  45. 45

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  46. 46

    Whitney — February 12, 2013 @ 8:18 pm

    This cake is gorgeous! I tried making it today with whole wheat flour and it came out really tiny! I make a king cake every year and thought I’d try something different…and I think it failed. Is this because of the wheat flour, you think?

    P.S. I think it’ll still TASTE good. It’s just more like a…Prince Cake!

    • Gwen replied: — February 12th, 2013 @ 9:19 pm

      Hi Whitney,

      The rule is not to substitute more than 1/4 of the total amount of the flour in a recipe with whole wheat flour. That may be why your recipe did not work. Baking is definitely a science, so when you alter a recipe, it may not work as you expected it to. I am sure the flavor may still be good, but it will be denser and not as light as the original recipe.

      I hope you will try this again with the original recipe. It is a fabulous cake.


  47. 47

    Whitney — February 12, 2013 @ 10:09 pm

    Thanks Gwen! Maybe I’ll just remake it tomorrow the RIGHT way! :)

    • Gwen replied: — February 12th, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

      I hope so! This was a really great recipe.

  48. 48

    Ed — December 5, 2013 @ 11:55 am

    Would you be willing to send me high res images of your cake, mask and beads. Images of the headline picture and other king cake pictures that have the mask and the beads? I would like to use your pictures in our newsletter for fat tuesday.

    Thanks, ed!

  49. 49

    Patty Hutchins — February 3, 2014 @ 9:15 pm

    I made this and they came out awesome. The only thing was the icing harden faster than I thought it would. But you did say it would. So I didn’t get as much sugar as yours did. The second of the two was better with the icing and sugar. But I still wasn’t fast enough. I will be making more towards the end of the month when Fat Tuesday gets closer. Thank you for sharing this. .

    • Gwen replied: — February 4th, 2014 @ 7:02 pm

      Hi Patty,

      I’m glad you liked the recipe and that my comments were helpful when preparing it. It is a wonderful yeast cake and perfect for the Mardi Gras festivities. I hope you enjoy it twice as much the second time around. :-)


  50. 50

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