First things first. What is a Mardi Gras King Cake?
It's Mardi Gras season - woohoo! Laissez les bon temps rouler! At this moment bakeries across Louisiana are turning out a yeasty, cinnamon-spiked, glazed delight by the thousands. And let me tell you, you don't know what you're missing until you've had a Mardi Gras King Cake. Like a whole one, all to yourself, that you consume in a matter of days. True story, unfortunately.
I'm New Orleans born but not raised, so my experience with these delectable cakes is of the mail-order kind. In order to avoid shelling out fifty buckeroos to have one shipped (which is definitely worth the treat once), I searched high and low for an original Mardi Gras King Cake recipe (below).
King cakes are a traditional offering that dates back to the Epiphany celebration in the Catholic church. This was the historic day in the Bible when the three kings of Orient bestowed gifts upon the infant Jesus on the Twelfth Night (the day Mardi Gras season begins). Now that you're caught up on the delicious details, onto the real reason we're here.
What exactly is in a King Cake?
A Mardi Gras King Cake is akin to a rich, brioche dough wrapped around a cinnamon roll filling, braided and shaped into an oval, then frosted. I know, much too much.
The sugar decoration is purple, green, and gold to symbolize justice, faith, and power, respectively. Perhaps the most exciting moment of slicing into one is hoping to find the hidden treasure. Don't be fooled by imposters posing as Mardi Gras King Cake recipes - if there isn't a step for hiding a little plastic baby (or bean) inside, you've been bamboozled. This is because the baby symbolizes Christ and fertility, and brings good luck all year (insert eye roll)!
Celebrating Mardi Gras somewhere else?
If you'd like a little bite of something nutritive, check out my Maw-maws authentic red beans and rice recipe here. And you won't want to party without a New Orleans hurricane cocktail courtesy the legendary Pat O'Brien's. Use this link to go straight to sloshed by way of said hurricane cocktail.
You're welcome. I take no responsibility for an adverse affects you may have to such copious amounts of alcohol contained in one single drink. Might I recommend stocking up on some Pedialyte.
Nothing says Mardi Gras like a King Cake! The ingredient list contains a measure of shortening, as this is adapted from an original Haydel's Bakery recipe published in The Times-Picayune, but feel free to replace with the same amount of butter. I personally am not a fan of shortening, and the cake turns out just as great!
- 1 cup milk (whole or reduced fat)
- 2 packages active dry yeast, ¼ ounce each
- ¼ cup butter, unsalted, room temperature
- ¼ cup shortening, room temperature
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon lemon zest
- ¼ teaspoon orange zest
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg (fresh grated or ground)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- Vegetable oil for greasing bowl
- 1 dried bean, half a pecan, or a little plastic baby (craft stores sell them)
- 4 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoon milk
- ½ tsp vanilla
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- food coloring (yellow, green, & red + blue = purple)
Mix + knead dough
In a small saucepan over low heat, warm milk to 105°F - 115°F. Remove from heat and sprinkle yeast over milk with one tablespoon of sugar. Let sit about 10 minutes until yeast froths. (If it doesn't, start over, the yeast is bad.)
With a hand or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream shortening, butter, salt and granulated sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, then vanilla, citrus zest and nutmeg. Beat in yeast mixture.
Add two cups of flour with the mixer on low speed, then beat in the rest with a wooden spoon (or switch to dough hook). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth, silky and elastic, about ten minutes. Shape dough into a large round. Let dough proof in an oiled bowl, covered with a towel until it doubles in volume.
Shape your cake
Lightly press excess air out of the dough. Roll dough into a large rectangle, about 10 x 20 inches, using flour sparingly. Cut into three sections lengthwise. Brush each with melted butter, and sprinkle generously with filling mixture. Roll each section up long side to long side. Should look something like this:
Pinch the ends of each roll, then pinch all three together at one end. Braid like hair (sorry), then pinch it off to seal the other end, and roll gently to lengthen. Shape into an oval and seal the ends together, tucking the seal underneath.
Use small oven-proof containers filled with dried beans or pie weights to support the oval shape (beans in ramekins work great). Let rest covered until doubled in size, about an hour. Should look like this:
Ready, set, bake!
Place on a baking sheet lined with greased parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350° F.
Bake at 350°F for 16-20 minutes, until the cake sounds hollow when tapped. Remove weights immediately and insert baby or the like into bottom of cake (don't let anyone see). Cool completely on a rack.
In a mixing bowl, whisk powdered sugar with milk until it reaches a thick but pourable consistency (you may have to add more milk or sugar). Stir in vanilla.
In small bowls or plastic baggies, separate sugar into thirds, and tint by rubbing food coloring into granules with spoon or fingers. Drizzle frosting over cake, and decorate with alternating colors of the tinted sugar.
P.S. Whoever is served the slice with the hidden bean or baby hosts acquires good luck for the year... and the honor of hosting the next Mardi Gras party!
Keywords: mardi gras king cake, mardi gras, Haydel's Bakery, King Cake recipe