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    Homemade King Cake Recipe

    Published February 25, 2022. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

    This delicious homemade king cake recipe is stuffed up with cinnamon and sugar and topped off with a cream cheese frosting for the perfect Mardi gras dessert. You will love how light, fluffy, and flavorful this cake is.  

    We have one heck of a sweet tooth in our family and can’t go a day without having some sort of small, sweet treat. If you’re looking to try out some new desserts, then definitely check out my Funnel Cake or Cherry Clafoutis.  

    king cake on a plate with beads

    King Cake  

    King cake is a Mardi Gras and New Orleans dessert staple. It got its name from the biblical story of the three kings bringing gifts to Jesus. In New Orleans tradition, you place a small plastic baby into the bottom of the cake after it’s done cooking, and whoever finds it must throw the next party. It’s a cyclical effect of keeping the party going no matter the season, but especially during Mardi gras.     

    It’s very similar to cinnamon rolls and can often be stuffed with different flavored cream cheeses, chocolates, and jellies. There are also three different colored icing on top which represent justice, power, and faith.       

    Ingredients You’ll Need  

    • Flour – All-purpose flour is what you will need for this recipe.
    • Butter – Use softened unsalted butter for the batter and icing.
    • Sugar – You will need both granulated sugar and brown sugar for this.
    • Eggs – Large cold eggs are perfect.
    • Yeast – I use active yeast, but you can use instant. See my chef notes on how to use it.
    • Milk – I prefer to use whole milk for the best flavor.
    • Salt – This will help flavor the dough and help in the rising process.
    • Cream Cheese – Softened cream cheese is used for my icing recipe.
    • Flavoring – You can use extracts such as butter, orange, or lemon, but I believe fresh squeezed lemon juice is perfect.

    How to Make a King Cake from Scratch  

    Follow along with these step-by-step procedures to make a homemade king cake from scratch:

    In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on high speed, cream the butter until light and fluffy, which takes about 3-4 minutes.  

    creaming butter in a stand mixer

    While the butter is creaming, whisk together the warm whole milk (110° to 115°) with a little bit of sugar and active yeast in a medium-size bowl and let stand for 5-7 minutes or until a “raft” forms on top.  

    yeast raft on milk in a jar

    Next, go back to the butter and add in the sugar and cream together for 1 to 2 minutes on high speed.  

    adding sugar to a stand mixer with butter

    Pour in the salt, lemon juice, and 1 egg at a time just until mixed in.  

    adding eggs to a stand mixer

    Next, pour in the milk and yeast mixture while the mixer is on low speed just until combined. It should look like creamed corn, sorry for the poor example but that’s what it looks like.  

    yeast and butter mixture in a stand mixer

    Replace the paddle attachment with the hook attachment and add in the flour in 3 batches until it is mixed in.  

    adding flour to a mixer

    Knead the dough on low to medium speed for 10 minutes. The dough should be elastic but not sticky.   Transfer the dough to a container with a lid and place it in the oven cracked with only the light turned on. Note, the oven should not be on, only the light. Let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes or until doubled in size.  

    mixing a dough in a mixer

    Once the dough has risen, punch it down and transfer it to a clean lightly floured surface.  

    proofing dough in the oven

    Roll the dough out evenly until it is roughly 20” by 24” and then slice it in half.  

    slicing rolled out dough in half

    Brush the dough with melted butter and then sprinkle on the cinnamon and sugar mixture all over.  

    cinnamon and sugar on dough

    Roll each dough piece up to form a long rope-like dough. Be sure to pinch the seams shut.  

    rolling up dough

    Now, overlap the dough repeatedly to form a braid-like look.

    braided cinnamon and sugar dough

    Form the dough into a circle and pinch the two ends together. Loosely cover at room temperature and let stand for 30 more minutes.  

    resting a braided king cake

    Bake in the oven at 350° for 30-33 minutes or until golden brown and firm. When you tap on it, it should sound hollow.  

    baking a king cake in the oven

    Let rest on a rack until it has completely cooled.  

    cooling a baked king cake

    King Cake Icing  

    There are a few options when it comes to the icing on a king cake. You can make a simple powdered sugar and milk icing using a ratio of 1 cup of powdered sugar to 2 tablespoons of milk. The other option is a cream cheese buttercream icing. Follow these quick procedures and images to make it:  

    • In a stand mixer with the paddle or whisk attachment whip together softened cream cheese and softened unsalted butter on high speed until it is light and fluffy, which takes about 4-5 minutes.
    whipping together cream cheese and butter
    • Next, turn the speed down to low and add in the powdered sugar and vanilla extract just until mixed in and then turn it back to high speed for 2 to 3 minutes. If it is too thick, thin out with a tablespoon or two of whole milk.
    adding powdered sugar to a mixer with cream cheese
    • Once the king cake has cooled to room temperature, spread the frosting over the top and slightly over the sides, do not worry this does not need to be perfect.
    spreading frosting on a king cake
    • Sprinkle on alternating yellow, purple, and green sugar around the cake.

    Make-Ahead and Storage  

    Make-Ahead: You can make this king cake up to 1 day ahead of time. Keep covered at room temperature before serving.  

    How to Store: Cover and keep at room temperature for up to 3 days. Cover and keep it in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days. This cake will freeze covered for up to 3 months. Thaw it in the refrigerator for 1 day before serving.

    How to Serve: If you prefer to serve it warm add a slice to a pan and heat in the oven at 350° for 2-4 minutes or until warm. You can also heat it in the microwave.  

    Chef Billy Parisi

    chef notes + tips

    • If you do not have a stand mixer when creaming the butter and sugar together for the king cake or the icing, you can use electric hand beaters.
    • It’s always a good idea to turn the speed down on your mix to low when adding in dry or wet ingredients so they don’t shoot out everywhere.
    • When using instant yeast, there is no need to wait until the raft forms in the milk, once it’s whisked in it is ready to use.
    • You can simply knead the dough by hand when it gets to that stage if you do not have a stand mixer.
    king cake with baby and beads

    More Dessert Recipes

    Let's Cook - Chef Billy Parisi

    Video

    Homemade King Cake Recipe

    This homemade king cake recipe is stuffed up with cinnamon and sugar and topped off with a cream cheese frosting.
    Servings: 10
    Prep Time: 20 minutes
    Cook Time: 30 minutes
    Proofing Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
    Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

    Ingredients 

    For the Cake

    • 1 stick softened unsalted butter
    • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 2 eggs
    • juice of ½ lemon
    • 1 cup warm whole milk, 110° to 115°
    • 1 packet of active yeast, 7 grams
    • 4 cups all-purpose flour
    • ¼ cup melted unsalted butter
    • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
    • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar

    For the Icing

    • 4 ounces softened cream cheese
    • 4 ounces softened unsalted butter
    • 1 cup powdered sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • whole milk as needed
    • 2 tablespoons each purple, gold, and green granulated sugar

    Instructions

    • In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on high speed, cream the butter until light and fluffy, which takes about 3-4 minutes.
    • While the butter is creaming, whisk together the warm whole milk (110° to 115°) with 1 tablespoon of sugar and active yeast in a medium-size bowl and let stand for 5-7 minutes or until a “raft” forms on top.
    • Next, go back to the butter and add in a ¼ cup of sugar and cream together for 1 to 2 minutes on high speed.
    • Pour in the salt and then 1 egg at a time just until mixed in. Pour in the lemon juice.
    • Next, pour in the milk and yeast mixture while the mixer is on low speed just until combined. It should look like creamed corn, sorry for the poor example but that’s what it looks like.
    • Replace the paddle attachment with the hook attachment and add in the flour in 3 batches until it’s mixed in.
    • Knead the dough on low to medium speed for 10 minutes. The dough should be elastic-like but not sticky.
    • Transfer the dough to a container with a lid and place it in the oven cracked with only the light turned on. Note, the oven should not be on, only the light. Let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes or until doubled in size.
    • While the dough is rising, in a small bowl mix together the cinnamon, brown sugar, and ¼ cup of sugar until combined and no sugar chunks exist.
    • Once the dough has risen, punch it down and transfer it to a clean lightly floured surface.
    • Roll the dough out evenly until it is roughly 20” by 24” and then slice it in half longways.
    • Brush both pieces of the dough with melted butter and then sprinkle on the cinnamon and sugar mixture all over.
    • Roll each dough piece up to form a long rope-like dough. Be sure to pinch the seams shut.
    • Now, overlap the dough repeatedly to form a braid-like look.
    • Form the dough into a circle and pinch the two ends together. Transfer to a cookie sheet tray lined with parchment paper and loosely cover at room temperature and let stand for 30 more minutes, it will rise a bit more during this process and up to double in size.
    • Bake in the oven at 350° for 30-33 minutes or until golden brown and firm. When you tap on it, it should sound hollow.
    • Let it cool on a rack until it has completely cooled.
    • In a stand mixer with the paddle or whisk attachment whip together the softened cream cheese and softened unsalted butter on high speed until it is light and fluffy, which takes about 4-5 minutes.
    • Next, turn the speed down to low and add in the powdered sugar and vanilla extract just until mixed in, and then turn it back to high speed for 2 to 3 minutes. If it is too thick, thin out with a tablespoon or two of whole milk.
    • Once the king cake has cooled to room temperature, spread the frosting over the top and slightly over the sides, do not worry this does not need to be perfect.
    • Sprinkle on alternating gold, purple, and green sugar around the cake.

    Notes

    Make-Ahead: You can make this king cake up to 1 day ahead of time. Keep covered at room temperature before serving.
    How to Store: Cover and keep at room temperature for up to 3 days. Cover and keep it in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days. This cake will freeze covered for up to 3 months. Thaw it in the refrigerator for 1 day before serving.
    How to Serve: If you prefer to serve it warm add a slice to a pan and heat in the oven at 350° for 2-4 minutes or until warm. You can also heat it in the microwave.
    If you do not have a stand mixer when creaming the butter and sugar together for the king cake or the icing, you can use electric hand beaters.
    It’s always a good idea to turn the speed down on your mix to low when adding in dry or wet ingredients so they don’t shoot out everywhere.
    When using instant yeast, there is no need to wait until the raft forms in the milk, once it’s whisked in it is ready to use.
    You can simply knead the dough by hand when it gets to that stage if you do not have a stand mixer.

    Nutrition

    Calories: 481kcalCarbohydrates: 68gProtein: 8gFat: 20gSaturated Fat: 12gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 84mgSodium: 416mgPotassium: 130mgFiber: 2gSugar: 29gVitamin A: 669IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 68mgIron: 3mg
    Course: Dessert
    Cuisine: French, southern