King Cake is a soft and delicious Mardi Gras tradition that takes minimal ingredients and time to put together. We’ve included 3 different shape options as well as instructions for adding in a plastic baby.

King cake on a platter.

Have you ever had King Cake before? This delicious braided sweet bread is a Mardi Gras tradition. It is a beautiful and vibrant cake that is PERFECT for any party! With mixtures of lemon and vanilla in the dough alone, the aroma will make you go crazy. However, just wait until you actually taste it! The flavor of the bread mixed with the filling and glaze is truly something else.

  • Can I add a baby to my King Cake?

    Yes, you certainly can! It’s a Mardi Gras tradition! Use a small plastic baby and add it into your King Cake during the braiding portion. The dough will rise around the baby and secure it into the cake. You can buy King Cake specific babies on Amazon.

  • Why is there a plastic baby?

    The baby in King Cake is a long-standing Mardi Gras tradition. It symbolizes luck and prosperity to whoever finds it in their slice. The lucky person is crowned king or queen for the day and is supposedly responsible for providing next year’s cake.

  • What day are you supposed to eat King Cake?

    Any day between January 6 and Ash Wednesday! Mardi Gras refers to a series of festival celebrations that occur between the Christian 3 Kings Day (feasts of the Epiphany) which occurs every year on January 6 and Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday occurs on the first day of lent, 46 days before Easter which changes dates every year. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox.

  • Shaping Options:

    There are 3 popular shapes for King Cakes. They each start out by rolling the dough into a 10-inch by 20-inch rectangle. 

    • OVAL OR ROUND RING: Spread softened butter in an even layer out over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch to 1-inch un-buttered gap at the top of the rectangle to allow it to seal. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar in an even layer over the butter on the dough. Add in the plastic baby (if using). Working lengthwise, roll up the dough tightly into a log and pinch the edges to seal. Loop it into a ring and gently press the ends together to form a round or oval ring. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. 
    • BRAID: Roll dough out into a 10-inch by 20-inch rectangle. Cut the dough lengthwise into 3 roughly equal long strips. Spread your butter over each of the dough strips and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar mixture. Add in the plastic baby (if using). Roll each strip up lengthwise and seal the edges to create three long ropes. Don’t forget to place a plastic baby somewhere in one of the ropes (if using). Braid your strips together and bring ends together to create a circle or oval. Place on large parchment-lined baking sheet. 
    • SPLIT-BRAID/STAR: Spread softened butter in an even layer out over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch to 1-inch un-buttered gap at the top of the rectangle to allow it to seal. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar in an even layer over the butter on the dough. Add in the plastic baby (if using). Working lengthwise, roll up the dough tightly into a log and pinch the edges to seal. Use a sharp knife to slice the log in half, lengthwise. Pinch the strands together at one end and simply twist the two pieces together, joining up the ends in a circle, pinching them together, and tucking them underneath.

       

King cake with one slice removed.

If you like this recipe, you may be interested in these other delicious sweet bread recipes:

Watch the video below where Rachel will walk you through every step of this recipe. Sometimes it helps to have a visual, and we’ve always got you covered with our cooking show. You can find the complete collection of recipes on YouTube, Facebook Watch, or our Facebook Page, or right here on our website with their corresponding recipes.

Traditional King Cake

Servings

1 Large Cake

A slice of king cake with the plastic baby in the middle.

King Cake is a soft and delicious Mardi Gras tradition that takes minimal ingredients and time to put together. We’ve included 3 different shape options as well as instructions for adding in a plastic baby.

Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

Dough:

  • 1 cup warm milk 105 to 110 degrees F
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 3-4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup salted butter melted
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Filling:

  • 4 tablespoons salted butter softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Icing:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk
  • gold, green, and purple sprinkles , for decorating

Instructions
  • Pour warm milk into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk in your sugar and yeast and let proof 10 minutes. Whisk in your butter, egg yolks, vanilla and lemon zest, cinnamon and nutmeg. Use a dough hook or wooden spoon to mix in flour and knead until it forms a dough ball. The dough should be greasy and solid, but not sticky, and should naturally pull away from the sides of the bowl.
  • Transfer to a large un-greased mixing bowl. Cover and let rise until double in size, about 1 hour.
  • Once dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 10″x20″ rectangle. Cut the dough lengthwise into 3 roughly equal long strips.
  • For your filling, mix together your sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Spread your butter over each of the dough strips and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture.
  • Roll each strip up lengthwise and seal the edges to create three long ropes. Don’t forget to place a plastic baby somewhere in one of the ropes (if using). Braid your strips together and bring ends together to create a circle or oval. Place on large parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise again for about 30 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Once dough has risen bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until top is slightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool.
  • To make the icing, add powdered sugar to a mixing bowl. Whisk in milk until icing can be easily drizzled on the cake. Pour the icing over the cooled cake and immediately add your sprinkles over the top in any colorful design you’d like.
As written, this recipe is for a braided loaf. Here are two more popular options for shaping your King Cake:

  • OVAL OR ROUND RING: Roll dough out into a 10-inch by 20-inch rectangle. Spread softened butter in an even layer out over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch to 1-inch un-buttered gap at the top of the rectangle to allow it to seal. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar in an even layer over the butter on the dough. Add in the plastic baby (if using). Working lengthwise, roll up the dough tightly into a log and pinch the edges to seal. Loop it into a ring and gently press the ends together to form a round or oval ring. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. 
  • SPLIT-BRAID/STAR: Roll dough out into a 10-inch by 20-inch rectangle. Spread softened butter in an even layer out over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch to 1-inch un-buttered gap at the top of the rectangle to allow it to seal. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar in an even layer over the butter on the dough. Add in the plastic baby (if using). Working lengthwise, roll up the dough tightly into a log and pinch the edges to seal. Use a sharp knife to slice the log in half, lengthwise. Pinch the strands together at one end and simply twist the two pieces together, joining up the ends in a circle, pinching them together, and tucking them underneath. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1whole cake | Calories: 5501kcal | Carbohydrates: 718g | Protein: 68g | Fat: 267g | Saturated Fat: 160g | Cholesterol: 1613mg | Sodium: 2207mg | Potassium: 1011mg | Fiber: 15g | Sugar: 418g | Vitamin A: 8840IU | Vitamin C: 3.9mg | Calcium: 617mg | Iron: 20.1mg