The rich traditions of Louisiana are fun to explore, mainly when they include celebratory foods like this King Cake Recipe. It’s filled with the classic flavors of cinnamon sugar swirled in tender bread dough, baked to perfection, then iced with sprinkles of purple, green, and gold sugar.
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What Is King Cake?
The King Cake is used in a religious tradition passed down from French influence in southern Louisiana. The ring of colorfully iced pastry is made of sweet bread served mainly on Epiphany until the day after Mardi Gras. Epiphany is a holiday honoring the event when the kings, or wise men, brought gifts to Jesus. It takes place on the 12th day after Christmas, January 6th.
The day after Mardi Gras is Ash Wednesday. This day marks the beginning of Lent when Cajuns religiously start cutting back on their celebrating and eating pleasant foods, like cake, until Easter Sunday. Since Cajuns are predominantly Catholic, the Lenton season is a serious time of consecration for these precious people.
King Cake Traditions
King Cakes are traditionally flavored with cinnamon and sugar, but today you can find them filled with creamy sauces, fruit, and even boudin! Not only are their flavors enticing, but so are their colors. The decorations of festive colored icing or sugar symbolize gold for power, purple for justice, and green for faith.
I love all of this delicious cake’s representations that link us to Christianity. Things like the shape of the delightful sweet bread formed into a circle reminding us of the church’s unity.
Another cool symbolism here is hiding a plastic baby in the cake. Years ago, the earlier cake’s buried treasure was a bean or half of a pecan. Today, a tiny plastic baby symbolizes the Christ child to whom the king’s gifts were given.
The reason for hiding the baby is to play a game at gatherings during the Mardi Gras season. Whoever finds the hidden baby in their piece of cake is thought to have good fortune. It can also mean that this person serves as the next Mardi Gras royalty, hosts a party, and/or supplies the next King Cake.
How To Make A King Cake
The basic dough for King Cake is sweet bread dough. The recipe of a good cinnamon roll can make the beginnings of a good King Cake recipe.
I recently used a reliable bread recipe, but the results disappointed me. My cake was too dry!
This left me reaching out to Tiffany B Casey on her FaceBook page, There Once Was A Kitchen Table. She has a reliable and authentic Louisiana cooking and culture read that has been a helpful guide in my Cajun recipe endeavors. I highly recommend you follow her on Instagram and join her Facebook group.
Tiffany suggested using an ingredient in her King Cake recipe, which is similar to mine, but it calls for sour cream. Well, I tried it, and I liked it! I replaced milk with sour cream, and the results are a very moist, tender cake that tastes great.
A Few Extra Instructions
It’s amazing how a little yeast in a cup of warm water (105° – 110° F) and sugar brings it to life. In the recipe, you’ll see that it starts with proofing the dry yeast. The photo below is what proofing should resemble after 5 minutes of the yeast and sugar in water.
After the dough comes together, rises, and is rolled out, it’s time to shape it. You can make a simple ring, but here’s how I make a braided cake; the dough is divided in half, making 2 cinnamon-filled rolls, then the rolls are braided and formed into a ring. The dough is brushed with an egg wash, which helps brown the cake with a rich golden color.
The Satisfying Results
While this cake bakes, it fills the house with an enjoyable aroma that will put happy faces on you and your Krewe. You’ll find the King Cake recipe has so many delightful attributes that make it a meaningful and fun food to create!
If you’re not a yeast dough baker, yet or you don’t have time for the prep, you can jump-start your cake to a rapid finish by using frozen bread dough or canned crescent rolls. The instructions are the same when rolling out, filling, and forming the pastry. However, you will need to allow the frozen dough to rise, but the crescent rolls need no rising before baking.
You can also replace the cinnamon filling with sweetened cream cheese, Bavarian cream, canned pie filling, fruity jams, and even boudin. But top your savory cake with something like bacon and not sweet icing, please!
The best way to serve a slice of this cake is to pass it through the microwave for a few seconds. It brings out its flavor and moistness. Yummy!
I hope you make yourself a King Cake and have some fun following its traditions with your friends and family.
More Recipes From Cajun Country
- My Mardi Gras Salad
- Gateau Frais Cupcakes, Or Fresh Cake Cupcakes
- Pork Jambalaya, A Traditional Cajun Dish
- Cajun Cake, An Immoderate Indulgence
- Chicken Gumbo, Simply Classic Cajun
- 2 eggs yolks
- 1/2 cup warm water, 105°-110° F
- 2 1/4 teaspoon instant dry yeast, rapid-rise
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2 1/2 tablespoons salted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/4 cup
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, light or dark, packed
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 egg whites
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons warm milk
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- purple, green, and yellow sanding sugar or sugar crystals
- Scramble yolks in a small bowl and set them aside.
- Butter the sides of a large bowl and set aside.
- Stir yeast and sugar into warm water and proof for 5-10 minutes; see notes.
- Place sour cream and butter into a large microwave-safe bowl; heat them in the microwave for a few seconds at a time, stirring to mix together as the butter softens and the sour cream is warmed, do not get ingredients hot.
- Stir the vanilla into sour cream and butter, set aside.
- Combine the flour, sugar, and salt into a medium-sized bowl set aside.
- Pour the yeast mixture (after it has been proofed) and the egg yolks into the sour cream mixture, stirring to combine.
- Stir the flour mixture, a small amount at a time, into the sour cream/yeast mixture until all ingredients are well incorporated; dough will be sticky.
- Remove dough onto a floured countertop and knead for 3-5 minutes incorporating the 1/4 cup of flour as you knead.
- Transfer the dough into the buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and place in a draft-free area to let rise for about an hour.
- Punch down the risen dough, place it on a floured surface, and roll into about a 12″ x 20″ rectangle using a floured rolling pin.
- Spread the filling evenly onto the dough, then roll up the dough tightly; starting at the long end, pinch all the seams closed with wet fingertips to help seal the edges.
- Bring ends of the roll together to form into a ring, pinching ends together trying to make an evenly seamless ring.
- Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and allow to rise for an hour in a draft-free place.
- Preheat oven to 375°F
- Brush the risen King Cake with egg wash on all sides and bake for 20 minutes.
- Cool cake and drizzle with icing and sprinkle with colored sanding sugar or sugar crystals.
- Combine the butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour in a small bowl mixing together with a spoon.
- Mix egg whites and milk together in a small bowl with a fork.
- Mix powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla with a spoon in a small bowl until smooth.
- Proofing the yeast in warm water means the mixture is left to sit while the yeast activates and starts to flower or bubble and grow on top of the water.
- Use softened butter and sour cream at room temperature to avoid using the microwave.
- Baking with ingredients close to the same temperature gives the best results.
- To braid the bread: After the first rise, divide the dough into 2 balls, roll each dough ball out into about a 6″x20″ rectangle, spread filling, roll up, and pinch all seams closed. Pinch two of the link ends together and braid the links while pulling to lengthen them, form into a circle, then continue with the recipe for the second rise.
- Pinching the seems seals the dough, so the filling doesn’t leak out.
- The recipe easily doubles for 1 large or 2 smaller king cakes.
- Divide the icing into 3 small bowls and dye the icing with purple, green, and gold food coloring to decorate the cake instead of colored sugar.
- Prep Time: 2 1/2 hours
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Category: Sweets
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Cajun
Keywords: king cake recipe, traditional king cake, king cake
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“I choose gentleness… Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.”
― Max Lucado