Preparing for Mardi Gras: Traditional King Cake

Time for King Cake, y’all!

On January 6th, Epiphany is celebrated all over the world. Afterward, many are anxiously preparing for Mardi Gras (also known by its biggest party day as Fat Tuesday.) The end of Epiphany marks the beginning of Carnival Season, a time when parties, balls, parades, and more are traditionally held. There is some debate as to exactly where it all began. If you go to New Orleans, locals often call their city the “Home of Mardi Gras.” After being stationed in Pensacola (just across the bridge from Mobile), Mobile locals disagree and claim the title for their city as well. Some traditions vary from Krewe to Krewe and City to City, but they are all there to celebrate and party before Lent, a time of sacrifice.

The King Cake is served during Carnival Season as a symbol of the three wise men who visited baby Jesus, thus the name “King Cake.” As part of tradition, a token (pecan, bean, plastic baby figurine)can be found inside to represent the Baby Jesus. Whomever, receives the “Baby Jesus” will have good luck all year, but must bring the next King Cake to have it! If they don’t bring the next King Cake, you won’t have good luck in the coming year and fellow party goers may frown upon you as well. The cake is usually topped with colorful icing, decorative sugars, and/or sprinkles. The bright colors of Mardi Gras each represent something. Purple represents Justice, Green represents Faith, and Gold represents Power. Cakes can vary in shape, size, and filling too. A “Galette de roi” is made with puff pastry and almond filling while a Sucre King Cake is a brioche bread-like ring with Cream Cheese filling. The recipe below is for two types of King Cakes. The first is a cake with candied fruit throughout and I typically serve it in the evening with a bit of Brandy if so desired. The second cake is a cinnamon and pecan filled cake that is perfect for a Mardi Gras breakfast or brunch when served with Café au Lait or Chicory Coffee. The recipes are easy, but do take time. Still, it doesn’t take as long as waiting in line at Manny Randazzo’s or waiting on your cake to ship! The ingredients are humble and commonly found around the house, but this homemade King Cake still tastes rich and delicious! Enjoy!

Traditional King Cake

A bread-like, ring cake decorated with bright Purple, Green and Gold icing, decorative sugars, and sprinkles. It is especially made for Mardi Gras/Carnival Season and can be served with coffee or a nice brandy. Serves 8-12 people


Prepare the Yeast for Dough Making

  • 2 1/4 tsp of Fleischmann’s Bread Machine Active Yeast or 1 envelope of RapidRise Yeast
  • 1/4 cup tepid-warm water
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar


  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp Mediterranean Sea Salt
  • 1/2 stick of butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk, microwaved 15 seconds
  • Prepared yeast
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached Bread Flour
  • Optional: 1/2 cup Fruit Cake Mix Candied Fruit
  • 1 large egg, beaten for egg wash

For Cinnamon Pecan Filling:

  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground Cinnamon
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped finely
  • 1/2 stick of butter, softened


  • 2 cups Confectioner’s Sugar
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • Decorative Sugars and Sprinkles (Purple, Green, and Gold)


In a small, glass bowl, combine yeast, tepid to warm water, and 1 tsp sugar until just mixed together. It’s important to ensure the water is not too hot and not agitate the yeast too much when mixing. Both can “kill” the yeast organism and cause your bread not to rise. This is where most people “mess up,” but after years of  making my own mistakes, I found these are the two key directions to pay attention to in making bread and pastries. Let yeast “eat” the sugar until foaming completely across the top or for about 8 to 10 minutes.

For the dough, combine granulated sugar, sea salt, butter, egg, milk, and yeast mixture in a mixing bowl. Slowly add flour to mixture and mix with a bread hook until dough forms into a heavy, fibrous ball (about 5 minutes) and resembles bread dough. If making a King Cake with Candied Fruit, add fruitcake mix in now and continue mixing until it is evenly distributed throughout the dough. If a mixer is not available, you can knead this recipe by hand. (In fact, when adding the fruit, I prefer to do it by hand!) The product will still look the same. Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn dough until all sides are oiled and cover with a towel. Let dough rise until dough has doubled or for about 2 hours.

If making a Cinnamon-Pecan Filled King Cake, begin making filling about 10 minutes before your dough is done rising. Mix together brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, and pecans until it is a paste like spread. Set aside.

Remove dough from oiled bowl. Punch it down and knead lightly.

If making a Candied Fruit King Cake, divide dough into 3 even parts. Roll each part into about a 16 inch cylinder. When 3 even cylinders are made, take the top ends and push them together. Begin braiding dough over and under the center cylinder until you reach the bottom end. Bring the top and bottom ends together and smooth so that it looks like a round braided wreath. Isn’t it beautiful?! Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper and let rise for 1 hour.

If making a Cinnamon-Pecan Filled King Cake, roll dough out until it is a 16 x 10 inch rectangle and is about 1/4 inch thick. Spread premade Cinnamon-Pecan Filling onto dough leaving 1/2 inch edge bare all the way around. Leaving an edge free of filling ensures the dough seals all the good, flavorful filling inside. Roll dough “hot dog style” (long ways) like a jelly roll and place on a parchment paper covered baking sheet seam side down. Let rise for 1 hour.

Using a brush, cover King Cake with egg wash and carefully brush wash into crevices. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes. An additional 10 minutes may be required for filled King Cakes.

Now, it’s fun time. While the cake is baking, mix together your confectioner’s sugar, milk, butter, and vanilla. This is where you will use all of your creative talents and make the cake YOURS. If you would like a light glaze, let the cake cool on rack a bit, then lightly glaze (as seen in video. Coming Soon!) Dust with the colored sugar crystals!! Or, for added sweetness, let cake cool completely. Ice top of King Cake with the icing for a thicker frosting and dust. OR, you can divide your icing into three parts. Add a drop or two of food coloring (Green, Yellow (Gold), and Purple (mix blue with red).  Ice each section, alternating the colored icing. And, yes, you may dust each section with the coinciding colored sugar crystals.

If you wish to put a “baby” in the cake, so your guests can have the fun of seeing who brings the next cake, make a small slit in the cake, push in the baby, and cover with icing. If you do not have a “baby”, you can easily add a “token” of a unchopped pecan half, or a small ovenproof charm. **Just make sure you warn guests before the cake cutting, that there is a small token in one of the pieces!

“Laissez les bon temps rouler” (pronounced “lay-zEh leh bAwn taw rOO-leh”)!  If this is foreign to you, the phrase means “Let the good times roll.”

{If you have any questions or comments on the baking of this cake, please email or message us. You can also comment on our Facebook page! Thank you.














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