King Cake Season

King Cake

Yield: 10 to 12  |  Total time: 50 (plus resting time) min
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It's carnival time and the season, starting January 6th, when people gather to eat, drink, and offer up king cakes.  In New Orleans, we eat thousands of these cakes during the season leading up to Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras. When it comes to king cake, those of us who grew up eating them--whether from Randazzo's, Gambino's, McKenzie's, Haydel's, and more--have had our fair share of dry, toothachingly-sweet versions. 

Now that I'm far from Louisiana, I'm not so picky anymore. I get all Stephen Stills about it and advocate for loving/eating "the one you're with."  With that said, I would rather be with a lovable, moist and not-too-sweet cake. 

You can always mail order one--(Sucré and Cochon offer some unique twists) or enjoy baking one at home.  Thanks to my good friend and baker, Anna Thomas, here is a delicious brioche version with just the right amount of sugar and rise and crumb.  If you want an almond-flavored, pillowy soft one (more like a cinnamon roll), try this King Cake Royale recipe, which is also available in my cookbook, "A Mouthful of Stars."  Either way, laissez les bon temps rouler!


  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) dry active yeast
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons fresh grated lemon or orange zest (save juice for icing)
  • 1 pound unsalted butter, melted and and slightly cooled
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For the Filling:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt

For the Icing: 

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon or orange juice
  • purple, green, and gold (yellow) sugar

1 plastic king cake baby (available at craft stores)


  1. Warm milk to 100-110° F and pour into bowl of stand mixer; sprinkle yeast and sugar over; let sit 20 minutes until frothy. Add salt, egg yolks, lemon zest, and melted (and cooled) butter. Mix, using the dough hook.  Add flour, 1 cup at a time, kneading with dough hook for at least five minutes, or until mixture becomes one cohesive mass. Scrape bottom to make sure there's no leftover flour on the bottom of bowl.  Knead a few times and shape into a ball; cover bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let sit for at least 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  2. Divide dough into two pieces.  Using a rolling pin and being careful not to make them too thin, roll out each piece so that you have two even rectangles.  Spread melted butter evenly over each piece.  Combine cinnamon, cocoa powder, and salt together in a small bowl; divide mixture evenly over butter.  Roll each piece, lengthwise, like a jelly roll.  Place pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Twist rolled pieces together and let rest 30-45 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 375°.  Beat egg with 1 teaspoon water.  Brush cake with egg wash. Bake for 30 minutes. Make icing by whisking together powdered sugar and lemon or orange juice.  If too thick, add more juice; if too thin, add more powdered sugar.  Drizzle icing over warm cake and top, if desired, with purple green and gold sugar.  Slice cake and stuff a baby in one of the pieces.


Date Published: January 18, 2016

All recipes have been tested by the Test Kitchens unless otherwise noted.

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