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Mardi Gras King Cake

King cake (or King’s Cake) is a festive cake found in many countries that is symbolic of the Epiphany season, starting January 6th and lasting through Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday”.  This traditional cake is named after the biblical Three Kings (or Wiseman).   One explanation for the cake’s round shape is that it resembles a king’s crown.  According to most customs in celebrating countries, a fava bean, baby doll (said to symbolize baby Jesus) or other plastic trinket is hidden in the round cake after it has baked.  Depending on the respective customs and beliefs, the person who gets the slice with the toy buys the next King Cake, hosts the next King Cake party or is blessed with good luck.

In the United States, King Cake is extremely popular in the Southeast, centering around the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration.  These cakes are decorated with purple, gold and green, the iconic colors of the Mardi Gras festival.  In other countries, the cake can be found in many forms, decorated as a crown and even sometimes rectangular in shape.  Even within countries, adaptations of the cake abound.  Though the cake was originally plain with sweet toppings, most King Cakes these days have a filling such as cinnamon, cream cheese, almond, raspberry, praline or chocolate.

I have chosen a cinnamon filling and I rolled the moist, sweet bread similarly to a cinnamon roll to get several layers of the filling.  You could also follow the directions given in the original King Arthur Bread Flour recipe to make one line of filling and crimp the edges together to form the log before shaping it into the round crown shape.

I have made naturally-dyed icings in the past so this time I wanted to experiment with naturally-dyed sugar sprinkles for the decoration.  I used natural food dyes {spinach green, blueberry purple and pineapple gold} to decorate my cinnamon-roll Mardi Gras King Cake.  To decorate the cake, ice the cake with a simple powdered sugar glaze and top with ribbons of naturally-dyed sugar sprinkles.  If you want to skip the sugar step you can simply separate your plain icing glaze into three bowls, color the icing gold, green and purple with the natural food colorings and decorate the cake with the naturally-dyed icing glazes.

Mardi Gras King Cake
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 18-24
I used natural food dyes {spinach green, blueberry purple and pineapple gold} to decorate my cinnamon-roll Mardi Gras King Cake.
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • ¾ cup lukewarm milk
  • 2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, white reserved
  • 3½ cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup nonfat dried milk powder
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • 2½ teaspoons yeast
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon lemon oil or 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind, optional
  • Cinnamon
  • Brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp milk or water, to consistency
Naturally-Dyed Mardi Gras Sprinkles
  • Sugar (or superfine sugar)
  • Spinach leaves
  • Frozen blackberries or blueberries
  • Frozen pineapple chunks blended with a dash of orange juice
  1. Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients together to form a smooth, silky dough. (The dough will be very sticky and soft.)
  2. Let the dough rise, covered, for 1 hour until puffy, though it probably won't double in size.
  3. Transfer the soft dough to a lightly greased work surface.
  4. Pat and stretch it into a 24" x 6" rectangle. (Or you can roll it into a 24" rectangle that is wider than 6" if you want to roll the dough up like a cinnamon roll and have more layers of filling.)
  5. Let the dough rest while you prepare the filling of your choice.
  6. Spread the softened butter over the dough.
  7. Sprinkle with brown sugar and then cinnamon, smoothing with your hand or the back of a spoon to evenly coat the dough with the cinnamon-sugar.
  8. Roll the dough up into a 24-inch long log 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/or sugar.
  9. Place the log of dough into the prepared ring mold, seam down or to the side (just not on top), or position into a ring on a greased baking sheet.
  10. The dough will stretch as you handle it so work quickly and gently to transfer it to the pan and position it in a circle.
  11. Pinch the ends together.
  12. Cover the ring of dough and let it rise for about an hour, until it's puffy.
  13. Just before baking, whisk the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon water and brush it over the risen ring or dough.
  14. Bake the cake for 20 minutes, then tent it lightly with aluminum foil and bake it for an additional 5-10 minutes, until it's golden brown.
  15. Remove the cake from the oven, and after 5 minutes gently loosen its edges from the pan, if you've baked it in a ring mold. After an additional 10 minutes, turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool (or transfer it from the baking sheet to a rack to cool).
  16. Once cooled, decorate the cake with icing and/or sprinkles.
  1. Mix the ingredients together to form a smooth, runny glaze.
  2. If desired, you can omit the sugar sprinkles and use the natural food dyes to color your powdered sugar icing (substituting the respective natural food dyes for some of the milk in the glaze).
Naturally-Dyed Mardi Gras Sprinkles
  1. Juice the spinach leaves for a natural green dye.
  2. Place the frozen berries in the microwave and cook for about 30 minutes until the berries begin to pop, using the berry juice for a natural purple dye.
  3. Blend frozen pineapple with a dash of orange juice and use the resulting juice as a natural yellow/gold dye.
  4. Place ½ cup portions of sugar into three bowls.
  5. Adding little drops of dye at a time, color the sugar purple, green and gold.