At a Glance

Prep
35 mins. to 45 mins.
Bake
50 mins. to 55 mins.
Total
4 hrs 5 mins. to 4 hrs 50 mins.
Yield
1 large loaf, about 16 servings
This moist, tender, buttery yeast bread, lightly sweetened then drizzled with vanilla glaze, sprinkled with colored sugars, and sometimes crowned with candied cherries, is a traditional New Orleans favorite. Served beginning on Epiphany, or Twelfth Night (January 6), it's enjoyed right on through Mardi Gras, a sweet symbol of this festive season. The sugars decorating the top of the cake mirror the color scheme of many a Mardi Gras parade float: gold (yellow) for power, green for faith, and purple for justice.

Originally King Cake was a rather plain bread whose flavor was almost all in its sweet toppings. Beginning in the late 1980s, however, customers began to demand something a bit more special. These days, most King Cakes are made with rich, brioche-like dough, and filled, most often with cream-cheese filling. While we give that version here, feel free to dream up your own filling: other New Orleans favorites include butter/cinnamon/sugar; almond (see "tips," below); various kinds of fruit; chocolate, and praline.
Volume Ounces Grams

Filling

Icing

  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 to 2 teaspoons milk, enough to make a thick but pourable glaze

Garnish

  • yellow, purple, and green fine sparkling sugars
  • candied red cherries (optional)

Directions

  1. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment.
  2. To prepare the dough: Using a stand mixer, electric hand mixer, or bread machine, mix and knead all of the dough ingredients together to form a smooth, very silky dough. You may try kneading this dough with your hands, if desired; but be advised it's very sticky and soft.
  3. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 1 hour. It'll become puffy, though it probably won't double in size.
  4. Transfer the soft dough to a lightly greased work surface. Pat and stretch it into a 24" x 6" rectangle. This won't be hard at all; it's very stretchy. Let the dough rest while you prepare the filling.
  5. To prepare the filling: Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and flour until smooth, scraping the bowl once. Add the egg and flavor, again beating until smooth.
  6. Dollop the filling down the center of the long strip of dough. Then fold each edge up and over the filling until they meet at the top; roll and pinch the edges together, to seal the filling inside as much as possible. Don't worry about making the seal look perfect; it'll eventually be hidden by the icing and sugar.
  7. Place the log of dough onto the baking sheet. The dough will be very extensible, i.e., it'll stretch as you handle it. So pick it up and position it on the pan quickly and gently. Pinch the ends together.
  8. Cover and let rise for about an hour, until it's puffy. Preheat the oven to 350°F while the dough rises.
  9. Whisk the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon water, and brush it over the risen cake.
  10. Bake the cake for 20 minutes, then tent it lightly with aluminum foil. Bake it for an additional 30 minutes, until it's a rich golden brown.
  11. Remove the cake from the oven. After about 15 minutes, transfer it from the baking sheet to a rack to cool.
  12. To make the icing: Beat together all of the icing ingredients, dribbling in the final 2 teaspoons milk until the icing is thick yet pourable.
  13. Pour the icing over the completely cooled cake. While it's still sticky, sprinkle with alternating bands of yellow, purple, and green sugars. Space candied cherries in a ring around the top.
  14. Yield: 1 loaf, about 16 servings.

Tips from our bakers

  • Feeding a crowd for Mardi Gras? To make a larger cake, double the recipe. Form a long, narrow, 48" x 6" rectangle, and dollop the filling down the center of the dough. Fold each edge up and over the filling until they meet at the top; roll and pinch the edges together to seal the filling inside as much as possible. Shape the log into an oval, seam side down, on a large, lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, pinching the ends together. Proceed with the recipe as written.
  • To make an almond-filled King Cake: Crumble 1 cup (10 ounces) almond paste into a large bowl with 4 tablespoons softened butter and 1 teaspoon almond extract. Beat until the butter is incorporated. Add 1/2 cup Baker's Special Sugar (superfine sugar) or granulated sugar, and 2 cups fresh soft white bread crumbs. Mix until evenly distributed; the mixture will be very stiff, but moist. After rolling out your dough, pat and spread the filling over the surface, leaving a 1" margin along the long edge closest to you. Brush the bare edge of the dough with water, and starting with the covered long edge, roll the dough into a log, pinching the seam closed. Proceed with the recipe as written.