It Isn't Mardi Gras Without This Classic King Cake
2024/02/02

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In a parade of beautiful , a  is the grand marshal leading the way! With its colorful coat of shiny gold, royal purple, and bright green sparkling sugar, this cake is a definite head-turner. If you've ever wished you could enjoy in cake form, this king cake recipe is your dream come true. Celebrating Mardi Gras at home? Start with a round of , chow down on some , and finish the feast with this king cake! It's a  that's the next best thing to catching beads on the streets of New Orleans.

What is king cake?

King cake is a ring-shaped cake made famous by the rowdy fun of Mardi Gras, but its roots are religious.

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It's traditionally prepared for the feast of Epiphany in January, and is only supposed to be eaten until Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the gratuitous celebration before many religious people give up certain foods for , the period before . Although it has been through many changes over the years, modern king cake (which gained its popularity in Louisiana) is made from a yeasted dough, rolled up with cinnamon and sugar, drizzled with a sweet glaze, and covered with colorful sparkling sugar. green, gold, and purple sparkling sugar.

How do you decorate a king cake?

You don't have to be a pro baker to make a fantastic-looking king cake! Classically, king cakes are decorated with gold, green, and purple sanding sugar, as those are traditional Mardi Gras colors.

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You can sprinkle on the sugar in any design you like, but doing thick stripes of alternating colors as shown in this recipe is plenty easy. If you're not a perfectionist, have kids help decorate the cake. You can't mess this up, and even if it is a bit messier than you'd prefer (compliments of tiny hands), it'll still taste great! 

What does a king cake taste like?

A king cake tastes a whole lot like a cinnamon roll—so if you love those, then you're sure to love king cake. The best part is the bright colored sugar that adorns the top! 

What's the deal with the baby?

Traditionally, a miniature  is baked into a king cake.

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 The baby is a nod to the "king" of the season, baby Jesus. It’s considered good luck to get a slice of king cake with the baby in it. Many commercial bakers have stopped putting a plastic baby inside, opting instead to place the baby on top and allow customers to hide the baby themselves, due to it being a possible choking hazard. While you can absolutely order plastic babies online and hide one in these cakes, a safer option is to tuck a into the cake before baking for a food-safe, no-warning-label-required treat. 

What's the best way to store king cake?

Since this king cake recipe makes two, you'll likely have some leftovers! You could gift one to a neighbor, but this cake is so delicious, you may want to save both for yourself.

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To keep leftovers fresh, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store them on the countertop at room temperature. King cake will stay fresh for up to three days, though it's undeniably best the day it's made. Done snacking? Here's an idea: Slice the cake up and transform it into the best  ever.

2

(1/4-oz.) packets active dry yeast

1/2 c.

warm water (about 110°F)

1/2 c.

plus 2 tsp. granulated sugar, divided

1 1/2 c.

whole milk, warmed (about 110°F)

1/4 c.

salted butter, melted and cooled slightly

3

large eggs, beaten

1 1/2 tsp.

salt

6 3/4 c.

bread flour

Nonstick cooking spray

2/3 c.

salted butter, melted, divided

1 c.

granulated sugar, divided

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3 tbsp.

ground cinnamon, divided

1 lb.

powdered sugar

1/4 c.

whole milk, plus more as needed

3 tbsp.

salted butter, melted 

2 tsp.

vanilla extract

Purple, green, and gold sparkling sugars

Step  1 For the dough: In a medium bowl, stir together the yeast, water, and 2 teaspoons of the sugar. Let the mixture stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Step  2 In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the yeast mixture, milk, butter, eggs, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup of the sugar. Beat on medium-low speed until combined, 30 seconds. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually add the flour, beating until completely combined, about 4 minutes.

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Increase the mixer to medium speed and beat until a smooth and elastic dough forms, about 6 minutes. Transfer the dough to a large bowl lightly greased with nonstick cooking spray. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Step  3 Punch the dough in the bowl to deflate. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 2 equal pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time (keep the remaining piece covered with a dish towel), roll the dough into a 20-by-12-inch rectangle. Brush half of the melted butter for the filling (1/3 cup) over the dough rectangle leaving a 1-inch border on all sides.

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Sprinkle half of the granulated sugar (1/2 cup) and half of the cinnamon (1 1/2 tablespoons) over the butter. Step  4 Starting with a long side, use both hands to roll the rectangle into a log, being careful to keep the roll tight. When you reach the end, brush the edge lightly with water and pinch the seam tightly together. Flip the roll so that the seam is face down. Bring the ends together to form a 10-inch ring. Brush one end lightly with water and pinch to seal. Place the ring on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cover loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining dough, butter, sugar, and cinnamon.

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Let the dough rings rest in a warm place until doubled in volume, 30 to 45 minutes. Step  5 Preheat the oven to 350°F with oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Uncover the dough rings. Bake, rotating the baking sheets halfway through, until golden brown, 22 to 28 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets with cakes to wire racks to cool completely, about 1 1/2 hours. Step  6 Make the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, butter, and vanilla until smooth. (Add additional milk by the teaspoon, until the glaze is just pourable.) Pour the glaze evenly over the cakes. Immediately sprinkle with alternating bands of purple, green, and gold sparkling sugars.

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