Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A King Cake for Mardi Gras

The "King Cake," or "Gateau de Roi" is a traditional New Orleans, Louisiana dessert served anytime during Mardi Gras or Carnival which begins Kings' Day or Twelfth night on January 6. Kings Day celebrates the arrival of the three kings to Jesus' birthplace, and the ensuing carnival season ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the forty days of Lent before Easter.

The King Cake is really more of a sweet bread or brioche, decorated in the colors of the Mardi Gras Carnival which are purple, green, and gold — apparently established by an early Mardi Gras king to represent justice, faith, and power.

King Cakes range from simple cinnamon roll coffeecakes to giant concoctions filled with just about anything you can imagine including pecans, fruit, various flavors of cream cheese, and chocolate.

The secret ingredient in every King Cake is a tiny plastic or porcelain baby, which represents the baby Jesus. The New Orleans tradition is that each person takes a piece of cake hoping to find the plastic baby inside. The recipient of the plastic baby is "crowned" King or Queen for the day and that person is obligated to host the following year's party and supply the King Cake.

Every year my husband's office is gifted by a business client from Louisiana with a King Cake, and he'd often bring a piece of it home for me to enjoy. This year I wanted to make my own.
There are many different recipes for King Cake, but this one was a wonderful basic cinnamon flavored one from the New Orleans Time's Picauyne:

King Cake

Makes 1 large ring -- recipe adapted from The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper.


Butter (for the bowl)
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 envelope active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 to 3 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs
Extra flour (for sprinkling)

1. Butter a large bowl.
2. In another large warm bowl, pour the water and sprinkle the yeast on top. Stir until it dissolves. Stir in the milk, butter, granulated sugar, nutmeg, and salt. (The butter will not blend in completely.)
3. Add 1 cup of the flour and blend well. Stir in the eggs and enough of the remaining 2 1/2 cups flour to make a soft dough.

4. Lightly flour a work surface. Turn the dough out and knead it for 5 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic, adding more flour if the dough sticks.

5. Transfer to the buttered bowl and turn the dough so it is buttered all over. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 small plastic baby figurine or you can substitute with a red bean

1. Have on hand a large rimmed baking sheet. Butter the sheet.
Punch down the dough. Lightly flour the work surface and with a rolling pin, roll the dough to a 30-by-9-inch rectangle. Brush with melted butter.

2. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle the brown sugar mixture over the dough to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Beginning at the long end, roll it up tightly, as for a jelly roll. Pinch the long seam to seal the roll. Form the roll into a ring and join the ends, pinching them together; keep the cut sides up. Transfer the ring to the baking sheet.

3. If using a red bean or pecan half, push it into the underside of the dough to hide it. (A baby charm will go in after baking.) Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 20 to 40 minutes or until doubled in bulk.


1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1-2 tablespoons milk
Purple, green, and yellow paste food coloring or sprinkles

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees.

2. Bake the ring for 30 minutes, or until firm and lightly browned. Remove the cake from the baking sheet and transfer to a wire rack to cool. (If using a plastic baby figurine, push it into the underside of the cake.)

3. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, almond extract, and 1 tablespoon of the milk. Stir until smooth, adding more of the remaining 1 tablespoon milk to make a smooth, pourable frosting.

4. Divide the frosting among 3 small bowls. Tint 1 mixture purple, 1 green, and 1 yellow, stirring each well. Drizzle each color over the top of the cake in 3 separate places.

If using sprinkles leave the frosting white and drizzle it over the cake and then sprinkle bands of green, purple and yellow sprinkles on top.

The cake was delicious and perfect accompanied by a cup of New Orleans Cafe Du M0nde coffee & chicory.

Happy "Fat Tuesday"! Laissez les bons temps rouler ...... enjoy your day!

King Cake

Traditionally offered in New Orleans from Jan 6 until "Fat ...

See King Cake on Key Ingredient.


The Quintessential Magpie said...

Oh, Pat, that looks GOOD! I love King Cake, and I've gotten the baby more than once. LOL! Of course, I didn't buy the next one so I'm a Mardi Gras outlaw of sorts. ;-)


Sheila :-)

~Cheryl said...

Gosh. I knew Ash Wednesday was happening this week but forgot about Tuesday's cake! One of the Spanish teachers always bakes a cake for us complete with 2 or 3 plastic babies hidden inside. We have the most fun waiting to see who "gets" to throw a party for us! Wow--that's tomorrow! Hurray! Happy Fat Tuesday to you, too!

Rhonda Hartis Smith said...

I think I've had a King Cake before but didn't get the baby. This looks soooooo good--you are quite a cook Pat!

Willow said...

I had never heard of King Cake before. Very interesting. I knew that Wednesday is Ash Wednesday but I'd forgotten about Fat Tuesday and that it is Mardi Gras.

M.Kate said...

Pat, I love to eat that! I always get hungry coming here :D

Joanne Kennedy said...

I've never had one of these but have seen them every year in the bakeries. I think all the colors turned me off and I never knew what they were inside. Now that I know what they are I think they sound so great! I may just have to get one...or better yet, make one myself.


Gracie said...

I love the story behind the cake and thanks for sharing the recipe. And happy Marti Gras to all!

Smilingsal said...

I came by way of Diane's. I've had King's cake before, but I did not get the baby. It was interesting to read your post.

Tracy said...

Woooow-weeeew! It's that beautiful...almost too beautiful to cut into with all those sprinkles and glittery Mardis Gras beads. I've never had this cake before. Looks sooo good!...mmm...Have you ever considered opening a restaurant, Pat?! ;o) Happy Fat Tuesday ((HUGS))

Gwendolyn said...

Interesting custom isn't it? Yes, in place where I've lived the poor people put so much stock into finding that little doll because they REALLY believe in the luck or bad-luck scenario. It is sad really. So much superstition behind some of these "traditions."

TheWritersPorch said...

Happy Fat Tuesday Pat!
Beautiful cake!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful tradition Pat! I had never heard of it. I love the sparkles and colour you added -so festive.

Betsy said...

You've captured the feeling of Fat Tuesday perfectly! Yum!

Junie Moon said...

I love King Cakes and once actually managed to get a piece with the baby in it. That was a lucky year for me. I never even thought about making my own cake, what a great idea. Thanks for sharing the recipe. My husband and I love the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, a must visit for us whenever we're in the city.

Bo said...

Hi Pat...great post today...lots of info about the meaning & traditions of Mardi Gras...I've never tried King Cake, but see them in bakeries at this time of the year...they are quite festive looking! ;-) Bo

pammiejo said...

Love your history lesson today - would love to have a piece of King's Cake too. One of my favorite sites in New Orleans was sitting at Cafe du Monde having coffee and a beinet (sp). Thanks for dropping by my blog today. Happy Lenten Journey to you too! PAM

Nola @ the Alamo said...

Laissez les bon temps rouler indeed! Save me a piece of the King cake. I've never made one, maybe next year; maybe next year I'll have my cake IN New Orleans, yeah, dream on...

Camille said...

Your King Cake looks so festive!! Perfect. I love the inside. My boys and I made one when they were younger. I think they just licked all the icing off, realizing it really was more like sweet bread than cake.

If I could I'd throw some beads your way! Cheers and Happy Fat Tuesday!

jeanne said...

Hi Pat, the king cake looks like a work of art. I love yeast cake with cinnamon. It would be fun to make. We were in New Orleans for a championship football game several years age. The Fl. Gators won. We celebrated on Bourbon Street and had so much fun. I would not want to go to Mardi Gras because of the crowds.

Have a wonderful day and happy baking.


Anonymous said...

I drove all over the county today trying to find a King Cake. I finally found one at Wegmans, but there was no baby inside "for liability reasons". So...I had to put a little plastic toy in there for my kids! I was wondering if I was being a little sacreligious substituting a toy for the Baby Jesus! hahahahahaha!

KarenHarveyCox said...

Wow, this looks like quite the recipe haven. I can't wait to peek around. Thank you for the link about the posts.

Gabriela said...


This King Cake is fantastic!

~ Gabriela ~

Pat@Back Porch Musings said...

I've never had King Cake. Yours looks wonderful!

Shelia said...

Hi Pat! Oh, I didn't know much about the meaning of the King Cake so I thank you for my education! :)
Thank you so much for your good wishes to me and your kindness! I will enter your little name in my giveaway!
Be a sweetie,]
Shelia :)

Linda Lou said...

i have heard about these cakes and the Baby Jesus hidden inside!! I want to go to New Orleans some day-it would be a blast to be there for Mardi Gras!

Jojo said...

Oh I wish I had a Gateau de Roi!!!

Lorrie said...

Pat that is so neat--it looks fabulouse. I've never had King Cake, so this is all new to me!

Donna said...

Very interesting. Yum, it looks good!


Barb said...

great job,looks as good as any that I've seen in bakeries....Barb

nanatrish said...

I love that cake. You did a super job. Don't you just love New Orleans? Enjoy a slice and a big cup of coffee for me.

Lavinia said...

So colourful! THere is a similar tradition for Greek Easter bread, except its a coin, not a plastic baby. Finding it means good luck.

steviewren said...

Two former managers at work are from southern Mississippi. They ordered King cakes every year to give our dealers as well as ordering a cake for the office. I never found the baby in my slice of cake, but I did inherit the one my friend found in her cake. When she moved on to a new job last year she left the baby with me. He sits in a tray on my desk.

Pat, you never cease to surprise me with your cooking abilities! yummy yummy!

lisa said...

diet? what diet? save some for me...i love king cake!!

Lisa B. said...

Perfect post for Fat Tuesday! When are they going to fix these computers so we can all have a taste? lol.

Picket said...

Morning girl...that looks fantastic....I don't think there is anything you can't cook or bake!!!! lol Hope you are having a great week my friend!

Vee said...

That sure looks pretty! You've already told me how delicious it is/was and I can well believe it!

The Quintessential Magpie said...

I am so hungry, Pat! What I wouldn't give for a King Cake right about now. LOL!


Sheila :-)

The Quintessential Magpie said...

And I mean a WHOLE King Cake. ;-)



Judy ~ My Front Porch said...

The perfect Mardi Gras cake! I've never heard of a King Cake before...but it looks quite yummy. Everything you make looks quite yummy!

Beverly said...

Pat, your King Cake looks divine. You'll have to let us know who gets the baby.

I used to work with a fellow that brought us King Cake every year.

Anonymous said...

Your cake looks wonderful! I'd love to try to make one. Better yet, I'd love to taste yours. I love the idea of the baby Jesus in the cake. ;-)


Proud Italian Cook said...

What a great job Pat! I thought you were going to say this is the one your husband brought home from his office, but you made it!!

laura @ the shore house said...

You MADE that King Cake?!?! I am so impressed. I love New Orleans (in fact, that's my next trip planned!) and King Cake certainly reminds me of it. I used to do event PR so I spent a few Mardi Gras in NOLA...I've eaten enough King Cake to last a lifetime, but I'd certainly take a slice of yours! :-)