Traditional Mardi Gras King Cake

Happy Fat Tuesday everyone! I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the day than by sharing a traditional king cake; king cakes are traditionally made for Mardi Gras celebrations. It’s hard to believe that the Easter season is already here, but before the fasting and sacrifices begin with the Lenten season tomorrow, there is one last day to live it up and fill up on all of your favorite treats! This king cake completes the Mardi Gras trifecta for me this year: shrimp and sausage jambalaya, homemade moon pies, and now the king cake. I have enjoyed learning more about the traditions and sharing them with you; I hope you’ve enjoyed the stories and recipes as well!

This cake is a yeasted sweet dough, spread with cinnamon-sugar filling, rolled up and shaped into a ring, very similar to a yeasted coffeecake. The dough itself is very soft and easy to work with, and although there are many components to this recipe, it is not all that difficult. It took me about four hours from start to finish to make this, but that also includes time during which the dough was rising, which is not active prep time. The resulting cake is soft, tender, flavorful and packed with a cinnamon-sugar filling. I love how colorful the cake is, and I will definitely be making it again and again!

If you observe Lent, are you giving anything up this year?

One year ago: Allspice Crumb Muffins
Two years ago: Cucidati – Italian Fig Cookies
Three years ago: Tiramisu

Mardi Gras King Cake

Yield: About 8 to 10 servings

Prep Time: About 3 hours (includes two inactive rise times)

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours 25 minutes


For the Dough:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces sour cream
5 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided into 4 tablespoons & 1 tablespoon
Pinch of salt
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees)
1 egg
3 to 3½ cups all-purpose flour
Oil for your hands and the bowl

For the Filling:
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons of melted butter

For the Icing:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons whole milk
Pinch of salt

For the Colored Sugars:
1½ cups superfine sugar (not powdered sugar), separated into ½ cups
Food coloring - Yellow, Green, Blue & Red


1. To Make the Dough: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a small or medium saucepan over medium heat, add the butter, 4 tablespoons of the sugar and the salt; stir. Once the butter has melted, add the sour cream and heat to luke warm, about 105 degrees. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, add ¼ cup warm water, yeast, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar; stir. Allow the yeast to sit for about five minutes until it bubbles and becomes active.

2. Once the yeast is active, whisk in the warm butter and sour cream mixture, the egg, and 1 cup of the flour. Whisk until smooth. Using an oiled wooden spoon, being mixing in small amounts of the remaining flour until you form a soft dough. This will take about another 2 cups of flour. You want the dough to be tacky, but not sticky.

3. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface lightly dusted with flour. With oiled hands, knead the dough until and elastic, about 5 to 10 minutes, adding more flour by the teaspoon if needed.

4. Place the ball of dough into a large, well-oiled bowl, then flip the dough so all of the surface area of the dough is oiled. Cover the bowl with oiled plastic wrap and a hand towel, then set the bowl in a warm, draft-free area and allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

5. While the dough is rising make the filling. Combine the melted butter, cinnamon and sugar in a medium bowl and stir to fully combine.

6. Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Lightly flour the dough and a rolling pin. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 18 inches long by 14 inches wide.

Spread the cinnamon sugar mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the outside of the dough.

7. Roll the cake up jellyroll-style and pinch the seams shut.

Carefully move the roll to a parchment-line baking sheet, seam-side down. Bring the ends together to form an oval and press the edges together to completely seal the cake into an oval.

8. Once again, cover the cake with oiled plastic wrap and a hand towel and allow it to rise for another 30 minutes.

9. During the second rise, make the colored sugars. Place ½ cup of superfine sugar into three separate bowls. Using the food coloring, make one bowl of green sugar, one bowl of yellow sugar, and one bowl of purple sugar (by mixing the blue and red). Use the back of a spoon or a pestle, work the food coloring into the sugar by grinding it against the side of the bowl and working the coloring throughout all of the sugar. Continue this until the sugar is uniform in color and there are no clumps. I used 12 drops of food coloring total for each of the colors.

10. Once 30 minutes have passed, remove the plastic wrap and hand towel from the cake and bake in the upper third of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown. Immediately transfer the cake to a cooling rack after removing it from the oven. Allow the cake to cool for at least 20 minutes before icing the cake.

11. Once the cake has cooled for 15 minutes, make the icing. Whisk together the powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, melted butter and milk until smooth. You want the icing to be able to drizzle easily but not just run right off the cake, so if the icing is to thin, just whisk in more powdered sugar and if the icing is too thick whisk in a touch more milk. After the cake has had a chance to cool, move the cake to whatever platter you wish to serve it on. (At this point, stick a dried bean or little plastic baby into the cake through the bottom. It's tradition in Louisiana that whoever gets the baby has to spring for the next cake! Elsewhere, it's a sign of good luck.) Slide pieces of wax paper under the cake so that it can catch any icing or sugar drips.

12. Drizzle the icing evenly over the cake and allow it ooze down the sides. Before the icing has a chance to set, sprinkle on rotating strips of colored sugar. Slide the wax paper pieces out from under the cake and discard. King cake can be served warm or at room temperature.

(Recipe adapted from YumSugar)

Process Photos:




49 Responses to “Traditional Mardi Gras King Cake”

  1. Adriana on March 8, 2011 at 5:43 am

    This king cake looks amazing! I have to try including sour cream in the dough next time. Happy Mardi Gras!


  2. Blog is the New Black on March 8, 2011 at 5:55 am

    Very pretty! Sounds delicious!


  3. Lisa (Dishes of Mrs. Fish) on March 8, 2011 at 6:07 am

    I had my first King Cake at our church’s Mardi Grais party on Saturday. It was delicious, so I’ll be saving this to make next year. Or next week. 🙂


  4. Happy When Not Hungry on March 8, 2011 at 6:37 am

    King Cake is delicious and yours looks beautiful! Perfect for Mardi Gras!


  5. Hezzi-D on March 8, 2011 at 6:48 am

    Your King Cake looks great! I made one last night as well, but yours has such a beautiful color to it, and looks wonderful when it’s cut.


  6. Nisrine M. on March 8, 2011 at 7:11 am

    I celebratd Mardi Gras a bit early this year with my students with games and contests but we didn’t do the cake. This is one I’ll have to remember for next year. Very nicely made.


  7. Lauren @chigallauren on March 8, 2011 at 7:29 am

    How fun!! Looks great!


  8. Sharlene on March 8, 2011 at 7:30 am

    I haven’t tried king cake out yet since I live in the North but it really makes me jealous that I don’t live elsewhere! I’ll have to make it sometime so I can taste its deliciousness.


  9. Katrina on March 8, 2011 at 8:52 am

    I’ve never heard of this before! Cool recipe 🙂


  10. kate@ahealthypassion on March 8, 2011 at 9:22 am

    this cake looks so amazing I love the colored sugars


  11. jen @ the baked life on March 8, 2011 at 9:36 am

    yum looks delicious and colourful!


  12. Erica on March 8, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Love King Cake! I am Definitely going to make this.


  13. A Bowl Of Mush on March 8, 2011 at 11:06 am

    This is so beautiful!! Happy Mardi Gras!!


  14. Cate on March 8, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Yum! I made my first King Cake this year and this one looks yummy! I like that it has cinnamon whereas mine is filled with a cream cheese filling.


  15. Fit Chick Britt on March 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    I want some King Cake so bad! This look delicious. In observance of Lent I’ll be giving up meat and wine. I think the second part will be tough, but I’ll get through it 🙂


  16. Sara on March 8, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    This looks delicious! I haven’t had King Cake in so long! As for Lent, I’m giving up one of my biggest vices: soda. I hate diet soda anyway, so it’s all or nothing in this case. 🙂


  17. Delishhh on March 8, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Oh that is gorgeous. For Fat Tuesday in Sweden we do Semlor – Basically it is a cardamon bun, with almond paste, and whipped cream and you eat it in a bowl with warm milk.


  18. Rachel @ The Avid Appetite on March 8, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    This looks beautiful and very springy!


  19. Kim - Liv Life on March 8, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Gorgeous cake! My daughter did a state project on Louisiana last year and of course the King Cake was fully covered (along with beignets!). We made our first King Cake this year too, I think it will become a tradition!


  20. Lyndsey @ Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops on March 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    This looks so good – light and melt-in-your mouth! Amazing!

    I also wanted to let you know that I’ve passed on a ‘Stylish Blogger Award’ to you. Im sure you probably get lots (!) but I really love reading your blog and seeing your beautiful pics.


  21. Made With Pink on March 8, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Ooh I’m so glad to see you made this! I live in the UK (originally Canadian) and they’re crazy for pancakes here today. I blog about the differences between baking in North America and the UK. I had planned on making a King Cake on top of the 2 types of pancakes I made, but just didn’t have the time. So glad to see you’ve made this, as I’ve never actually tried or seen a King Cake before. I still really want to make it, so will give your recipe a try! Thanks!


  22. Kim on March 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    I made two King Cakes this year (my first attempt). I used PW’s cinnamon roll dough and made a creamcheese/brown sugar/cinnamon filling. It came out great, but nothing compared to Ambrosia Bakery in Baton Rouge. They have THE best King Cake’s in all of Louisiana.


  23. Celeste on March 8, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    This cake is gorgeous!


  24. Becky on March 8, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    i made a King Cake ,too this year, but it took me a lot longer than 4 hours. I am a novice to baking with yeast, so everything took longer. It did turn out though, and like yours was very good. Every King cake, that I have seen, looks a little bit different.


  25. RavieNomNoms on March 8, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    That looks so gorgeous and delicious!


  26. Elyse @ The Cultural Dish on March 8, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    This looks so beautiful! Love it!


  27. Kelly @ Evil Shenanigans on March 8, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    We had some friends from New Orleans when I was growing up and they would make us a King Cake each year. She would bring it over when it was still a little warm. It was SO good! Yours looks so delicious, and very pretty!


  28. Lori @ RecipeGirl on March 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I suppose I’ll have to do one of these King Cakes one of these days! They’re so pretty & you did a mighty fabulous job w/ yours!


  29. kitchenarian on March 8, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Very festive. I love it. I am definitely making one next year.


  30. Cooking Rookie on March 8, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Such a happy cake!


  31. Firefly on March 8, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    It looks amazing!


  32. Hannah at FleurDeLicious on March 8, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    so pretty! your colored sugars are lovely, i like that you used superfine sugar. i like the idea of using sour cream in the dough…i made one but it was all butter and egg yolks. still yummy, but i’ll have to try this version next year! (or i just won’t wait until mardi gras to make one…)


  33. Threemealsaday on March 8, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Great looking King Cake. I tried three different versions this year including a cupcake type. I have saved your recipe for next years trials.



  34. Skylar on March 8, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I ate one of these today, and I honestly don’t know why I don’t make one more often. Looks delicious!


  35. Liz on March 8, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    OH, yum!!! My family would gobble this up…I need to keep your recipe in mind for next Fat Tuesday 🙂


  36. Joy on March 8, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Hmmmm I have never had a king cake. I have been dying for one.


  37. Kathleen @ KatsHealthCorner on March 8, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Your cake is the cutest one I have seen yet!!! 😀



  38. Kat @ Cupcake Kat on March 8, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    Beautiful cake!
    For lent this year I am giving up peanut butter (I LOVE peanut butter) and I am also going to strive to focus on my school studies more


    • Michelle on March 8th, 2011 at 10:29 pm

      Thanks Kat! As you know, I’m a big peanut butter fan too… I gave it up one year for Lent when I was younger, probably around middle school. I totally devoured toast slathered in PB&J for breakfast on Easter morning that year 😉


  39. Peggy on March 9, 2011 at 5:50 am

    What a beautiful king’s cake!

    I don’t think I’m giving up anything this year, I’ve already given up enough as my New Year’s resolution’s so I’m just going to keep sticking to those! =)


  40. Tiffany on March 9, 2011 at 7:45 am

    This is perfect! Yesterday, I had a king cake with cream cheese filling. I love your cinnamon swirl!


  41. Mackenzie @ The Caramel Cookie on March 9, 2011 at 7:58 am

    The king cake looks great! I have a box mix king cake I was going to use instead of making one from stratch. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to make that either!


  42. Charles on March 9, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Looks great! Just made one myself! I was wondering, what kind of baking mat you had there. It looks like it has a ruled edge and a center that indicates the circumference. That looks really helpful, and would love to get my hands on one!


  43. Melanie on March 19, 2011 at 3:15 am

    I just stumbled upon this. Every year I get a King Cake from New Orleans for my birthday. And if Mardi Gras is late like this year (or early) some times the cake doesn’t make it. I will so have to use this as a substitute. Though I noticed you didn’t bake the little baby inside. Finding it is almost as good as eating the cake. 🙂


  44. Suzi on February 7, 2013 at 10:21 am

    I’m going to make this this weekend, I think it’s funny that you say to turn the oven on and then the dough has to rise for an hour and a half. With working the dough in between the two rises, the oven would be on for two hours probably. I think it makes more sense to preheat the oven after you finish forming the cake into the ring.


  45. Cheryl on February 28, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Try a savarin pan or a Trois Freres tin for your lovely yeast cake. I will use your recipe for the new pans I just bought. And we have Carnival this weekend – Greatest Show on Earth!


  46. Vee on March 3, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    I made this today, I didn’t have purple sugar so I used pink. My lent goal is to limit processed foods. And artificial sweeteners.


  47. Rebecca on March 4, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    I’ve been wanting to make this recipe the past year or so and finally did it last night. It was soo good! Thanks for sharing. Your recipes you post/share never fail me!


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