“King Cake” for Mardi Gras!

Don’t adjust the color balance on your monitor, this “cake” really is purple, green and gold. King Cake, named for the three kings who came to bring gifts to Jesus, is traditionally served during Mardi Gras in New Orleans and throughout the South. Not only is it decorated with the colors of the festival, but it also has a hidden trinket in the dough. I’ve used an almond, but in New Orleans bakers often use a ceramic or plastic doll to represent the baby Jesus. The person who gets the slice with the trinket is responsible for making the King Cake the following year.

There are many versions of this sweet bread, depending on the traditions of different families. Our version is made with Brioche dough which has nutmeg, lemon zest and citron added into it.  The dough can be Braided and/or formed into a Couronne (crown shape) as I have done here. Some bakers even use a cream cheese and praline filling, but we went with a more traditional filling.

King Cake:

1 1/2 – pounds Brioche Dough (page 189 ABin5) or  (Whole Wheat Brioche page 275 or *Gluten-Free Brioche page 252, both in HBin5)

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup finely chopped citron (optional)

1 almond, bean or Plastic King Cake Babies for trinket

Glaze:

2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Purple, green and gold Food Coloring

Purple, green and gold Colored Sugars

To make the King Cake:

Preheat oven to 350° and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the brioche dough into a 1/4-inch thick rectangle. Cover the dough with the nutmeg, lemon zest and citron.

* For G-F bakers: you will want to roll the dough out between sugar covered silpat and plastic wrap, so it will not stick to the surface.

Roll the dough up around the fillings and fold the dough over itself.

*For G-F bakers: you will want to roll the ingredients into the dough and then immediately for the dough into a circle (see pictures below), this dough will not allow you to knead the ingredients in.

Knead (Yes, I used the dreaded word) the dough for about 1 minute to mix the fillings into the dough.

Form a log with the dough

and stretch it out into a long rope.

Join the two ends and let the dough rest on a cookie sheet, covered with parchment, for 1 hour (1 1/2 hours for whole wheat brioche). Push the trinket under the dough. Brush the top with egg wash and bake for about 35-40 minutes.

Cool the bread completely before decorating.

Make the glaze:

Mix the powdered sugar, lemon juice and heavy cream until smooth. Separate the glaze into 3 small bowls and add the different colors until you achieve the color you want.

Use a Parchment Paper Pastry Bag to decorate the cake.

Sprinkle the colored sugar over the glaze before it has a chance to set.

Enjoy!

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63 thoughts on ““King Cake” for Mardi Gras!

  1. This is perfect! I wanted to do a King Cake for my son’s class but didn’t think the traditional method was very healthy (or very easy). This is perfect and I’m due to make a big batch of dough today anyway!!

  2. Hi Jeff and Zoe,
    Purchased Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day last week and just wanted to tell you both what a great book. I made my first Boule and the family loved it! I’m a beginner but your recipe and instructions made me look like an ole pro. Thanks so much and I look forward to making many more loaves from your book.

    Mike

  3. Really enjoying your “Deli Style” rye, P. 59 of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I recall a “corn rye” in a long gone local bakery. I think it just had some cornmeal added. Can this be adapted to your Deli Rye?

    • Hi Steve,

      Old world “corn rye” actually has no corn in it at all. Some recipes will be coated in cornmeal, but it is never a part of the actual dough.

      Thanks, Zoë

  4. Hi, I bought your book – healthy bread in 5 min a day and had a question.
    The master recipe ( Page 54 ) does not call for sugar. why is that? as most bread recipes that I have come across use sugar
    If i wanted to add sugar how much do you recommend for the master recipe.

    Thanks in advance

    • Hi Mickey,

      The addition of 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar can be used to speed up the effects of the yeast. As the yeast eats the sugar it produces the gas bubbles that give rise to the dough. This happens without sugar, but just takes a bit more time. If you are wanting the add sugar to add sweetness to the bread you will need to add a bit more, about a 1/4 cup or more. This will change the flavor and will make the loaf darken faster while baking.

      Thanks, Zoë

  5. I purchased ABin5 and I am hoping to make some bread this weekend. One question…in the book, it mentions a 5 quart bucket. After searching all over town, I found a 5.2 quart bucket. However, in browsing your site today, I noticed you are recommending a 6 quart bucket? Do you think my 5.2 will work fine for most recipes? Can you think of any recipes where the 5.2 will not be big enough?

    • Hi Stephanie,

      I have now added more instructions for the G-F dough. Please let me know if this makes it clear. Thanks for letting me know!

      Cheers! Zoë

  6. This is great! Being a native New Orleanian, it actually occurred to me last year to try your brioche dough when making king cake. I must say it tastes delicious and is the closest to “bakery taste” that I have found in a home made king cake. This post is great and gives me lots of ideas for making my own recipe much more simple. :) Thanks so much!

    • Hi Lauren,

      I hope you will share some of your ideas with all of us! I’d love to know some of the family traditions.

      Enjoy! Zoë

  7. We’ve used your brioche dough the last couple of years to make king cakes. They turn out wonderfully! We sometimes make a filling of cream cheese and apples. So yummy. I’m about to mix up a batch for this weekend.

  8. Hi ,
    I am still plugging along but stumped. I made the dough for the Peasant Loaf but again, it did not rise prebake and rose only a little in the oven. ( the end product is only 6″ x4″ x 3.5)The crust is great- i used steam on the second loaf as the aluminum pan cover did not produce a good crust – but the inside is not ‘holey’ but ‘doughy’ What am I doing wrong?????

    • Hi awcSam,

      What kind of oven do you have? Is it a pro-style (wolf or viking)? These don’t produce as nice a crust.

      You may have much better luck baking in a Dutch Oven: http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/?p=552

      Are you using an oven thermometer? Most ovens are not accurate. The wrong temperature can effect the rising and crust.

      For high altitude bread you may want to switch to bread flour to increase the ability to rise.

      Thanks, Zoë

    • Jeffrey: easiest way is to use one of the enriched doughs (like in this recipe), or challah. Lots of recipes in both our our books (click above on book icons). Or use non-enriched dough, but paint with oil or butter before baking and don’t use steam in the oven. Jeff

  9. Thanks, Zoe,
    I have an electric Frigidaire wall oven. I get a nice crust when I use the roasting p[an with water. It is the size of the finished product and the texture of the bread that I am concerned with. I will try the bread flour instead of white. Or can I just add some vital wheat gluten?

    • awc: Yep, you can use VWG to boost the strength of AP to more in the bread-flour range. 1/8 to 1/4 cup per batch, but you’ll need to increase the water so the consistency remains comparable to our usual doughs. Will take some experimentation.

      I assume you’ve already tried increasing the resting time for that Peasant Loaf to get a more “open” crumb? Try 60 to 90 minutes rather than 45 and see what you think. Especially if your kitch is very cool. Jeff

  10. Hi Jeff and Zoë,

    How can I get a soft crust, as soft as store-bought sliced bread?
    My son just got braces and is banned from eating anything hard or crunchy. Pizza crust, for example, is one of no-no food.
    Our family all love the taste of your bread (we bake two pounds of master recipe dough in a bread pan), and he doesn’t want to give up the bread just because the crust is hard..
    Please help!

    Atsuko Marie

    • Hi Atsuko,

      You can bake the bread without steam, brush it with butter or oil before and after baking and consider using a dough that is enriched. The enriched doughs will not form a crust as much as the lean dough. Brioche, Challah or the Buttermilk may be good choices for you.

      Thanks, Zoë

  11. Thanks Zoë!

    I’ve already tried no steam and brushing butter…
    I’ve read elsewhere that baking at a lower temperature softens the crust, but it will take longer for the crumb to bake.
    Which do you recommend, shorter time at a higher temperature (30 min – 450 F), or longer time at a lower temperature (80 min – 350 F)?
    Maybe the enriched dough is the answer — but my son has to wait a while; I’ve already got another batch of master recipe dough in the fridge!

    Atsuko

    • Atsuko: Enriched dough, or brushing non-enriched dough with oil or melted butter will work.

      Likewise, your idea for longer bake at lower temp will also soften the crust, but this will take some experimentation that will depend on loaf size. Jeff

  12. Thanks Jeff. Yes I have let the dough rest for anywhere from 90-120 minutes. It tastes great, just the size and the crumb. I am dealing with both altitude and temp. I have decreased the yeast to 1T or the dough balloons in minutes. i will try the VWG. Is bread flour the same as hard wheat flour?

    • Hi AwcSam,

      Many flours are made from hard wheat flour, it needs to be specifically labeled bread flour or it may just be all-purpose.

      Thanks, Zoë

  13. My pampered chef round stone cracked after using it twice a week for 12 years. It had a good life. I have read that you can use an unglazed tile and save a lot of money. Do you reccomend this?

    • Shelley: I know that Alton Brown has recommended unglazed quarry tile on his show and in his books. Zoe and I haven’t researched it or used it so can’t comment on it beyond that— people have served me bread made from it and the results seemed to be excellent.

  14. I had just made my first batch of challah dough so decided to try this recipe with it – everyone loved it!! I can only imagine how awesome it would be using the brioche dough. I’m trying that one next. Do you have any tips for forming the dough into the ropes? I found that quite challenging and needless to say my first two “crowns” looked more like fat bagels. :-)

    Thanks again for a such an amazing book!

    Suzanne

    • Hi Suzanne,

      Glad you enjoyed the bread! Did it not want to stretch easily? If the dough is resists stretching you can just let it sit for about 10 minutes and try again.

      Hope this helps! Zoë

  15. Zoe,
    Thanks so much for this post. I posted last year about this time as I was getting ready to make a King’s cake. I too have been using the brioce dough. My filling is usually a cream cheese/cinnamon or almond paste. One important note about the “trinket”. It’s ok to bake an almond, but if you use the more traditional plastic baby, it should be pushed in the bottom AFTER the cake bakes!
    Cynthia

  16. Hi Jeff,

    Thoroughly enjoyed your class today at the Chef’s Gallery.
    You mentioned one thing during the lecture that I wanted to ask about but I forgot at the time. You said that any dough with egg in it shouldn’t be baked at any higher oven temp than 350′.
    I’m curious why?
    Thanks again for the great class!
    Peter

    • Peter: Thanks for coming to the class, nice seeing you.

      Egg doughs will over-brown and burn at temperatures above 350…

  17. Okay, now that my King’s Cake (made with brioche) turned out beautifully, I’m ready to turn my attention to hot cross buns. Do you suggest the brioche or challah for these?

  18. the Vollkornbrot and Peasantbrot /Graubrot taste just like in Germany.Thank you so much.I tried to make Vollkornbrot for many years and always had doorstoppers.My Husband is also very happy because when he flies thru Frankfurt he doesnt have to buy 4 loafes of bread anymore. Which recipe can i use for Broetchen? I have both Books

  19. Unrelated question: got distracted and made an entire batch of the master dough from HBin5 with out the salt.
    Realized it today when I had the bread- so bland.
    Is there any way to salvage the rest of the dough?
    thanks!

    • Mandy: Sure. Make a slurry of the full amount of salt needed plus a little water. Knead it in, or use a food processor. May need more water to make this happen, then add a little flour to bring consistency back where it belongs.

      Let rise two hours at room temp to let the dough open up again. Jeff

  20. Made the dough this morning. A few minutes later my daughter asked for honey on her bread and realized I hadn’t added it!

    Mixed it in–seemed fine and the dough was rising nicely when I left home. Going to split it into a large piece and a smaller, put a cinnamon sugar nut filling in them, and keep one for home, one for work!

  21. I made this tonight, filled it with a layer of softened cream cheese, then a layer of chopped pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter, crumbed together. Heavenly! I used the whole wheat brioche dough.

  22. Thanks so much for this recipe! I love the Brioche in HBin5, and had great luck with the Christmas Stollen so I knew it would be delicious.
    I really appreciate these timely recipes, especially when you give us a few days to get our act together.
    Hoping for Hot Cross Buns in time for Easter!

  23. The dough I made yesterday turned out fine, though I found it a lot stickier than other egg bread doughs I’ve made. Kneaded in some extra flour and next time may use the stand mixer to mix it more evenly. I also used half oil/half butter–don’t think it really impacted the flavor–a cinnamon sugar filling, and a sugar/vanilla/milk glaze.

    One cake is at home and my daughters loved it. The other, bigger one is here at work and the staff is ravaging it!

    BTW, the small loaf took about 20-25 minutes to bake, in case anyone wants to make that size. The 3/4 lb dough one is huge and really filled up my baking sheet!

    • Elizabeth: you didn’t say when you tried to shape it, but if it’s completely chilled, a lot of that stickiness goes away. See what you think. In any case, sounds like you had a great result. Jeff

  24. It was totally chilled. Made it at 12 Noon, my husband fridged it around 3 and I baked it at 9PM.

    I think I need to make sure the flour is better mixed into these doughs. It was sticky, but it was also lumpy–think it was flour clumps. I actually kneaded it for a minute or two in my stand mixer.

    No matter what the problem, there wasn’t a crumb left of the big loaf I took to work and the small loaf at home is just about gone as well!

  25. Elizabeth: that lumpiness occurs in brioche, and we’re pretty sure it’s actually honey, not flour lumps. It doesn’t leave any dry patches in the crumb, as you’ve seen.

    I’d just dry it out a bit to your liking– a little extra flour, or a little less water, just experiment a bit. Jeff

  26. Interesting. Because my challah recipe is nearly identical to the ingredients in the brioche– just less eggs. Even the fat proportion is about the same. And I do use honey in it. But I’ve never had lumps in the dough.
    Curiouser and curiouser…

    • Hi Amber,

      This style bread is generally slightly sweet and enriched, so I would make it with the Challah or Brioche doughs.

      Thanks, Zoë

  27. I did it. I took a light wheat bread recipe of mine and adapted it to your version. Turned out great. However I must admit that the first batch I put very thing”mise en place” as directed but forgot to “place in pot” , as we might say here in the U. S , the yeast. Threw that batch out. Next I would like to try Brioche. Do you fold it over on itself 3 or 4 times to stretch the gluten.? Also, I would like to reduce the yeast, since this is. Sweet bread. Can I or should I then add any vital gluten?.Thanks for such great recipes.I can’ t believe that I’m baking bread again at age 75. It is possible to teach an old dog new tricks!

    • Sue: We didn’t specifically recommend folding over the Brioche, but it doesn’t hurt; it’s a form of kneading. Any kneading makes makes the crumb a little tighter, but that’s OK for brioche. Which of our brioche recipes are you using–which book, which page number? Have you been through our FAQs tab, above?

  28. Hi,

    When the brioche dough is formed into the King cake shape and is resting for the hour and a half, should it be covered with a tea cloth or plastic wrap? The directions say to “let the dough rest on a cookie sheet, covered with parchment,” but I’m guessing you mean the cookie sheet is covered with parchment and not the dough. Normally I do cover resting dough with plastic but this dough is quite sticky so I’m worried about it sticking to the wrap.

    • Hi Ingrid,

      I did mean plastic wrap. You want to drape it over the dough very loosely and it should come off pretty easily. Tea towels do stick to our wet dough and they become inseparable.

      Thanks, Zoë

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