King Cake for Mardi Gras

As you may know, it is Mardi Gras time in New Orleans.  You may also know that we just returned from a trip to New Orleans this past weekend and would really like to go back for another adventure. One can never have too much fun!

I will be writing a series of articles on New Orleans over the next couple of weeks.  Of course, I had to include a recipe for King Cake in the middle of this series since King Cake is a Mardi Gras tradition.  If you are joining in on the festivities, you you will want to have one of these cakes on hand for Fat Tuesday next week. You can certainly buy one, but what’s the fun in doing that?

This was my first time baking a King Cake and if I say so myself, I think it looks pretty good!  How could homemade, sweet yeast bread filled with brown sugar, butter, pecans and cinnamon which is then rolled into a coffeecake, baked and topped with icing be bad? It can’t! This was scrumptious!

Since the Bunkycooks don’t need any more cakes or pastries sitting on our waistlines and hips, I took one of the King Cakes to a pot luck dinner the other evening. This recipe makes two cakes, so the other…well…I won’t tell if you don’t! 😉

You can find the complete history of the tradition of the King Cake at the Mardi Gras Digest.  According to Wikipedia, “The “king cake” takes its name from the biblical three kings. Catholic tradition states that their journey to Bethlehem took twelve days (the Twelve Days of Christmas), and that they arrived to honor the Christ Child on Epiphany.  The season for king cake extends from the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas (Twelfth Night and Epiphany Day), through to Mardi Gras day. Some organizations or groups of friends may have “king cake parties” every week through the Carnival season.

I love my Mardi Gras beads with the mask!

The choosing of King and Queen from the cake, usually by the inclusion of a bean and a pea, was a traditional English Twelfth Night festivity.  In the southern United States, the tradition was brought to the area by colonists from France and Spain and it is associated with Carnival, which is celebrated in the Gulf Coast region, centered on New Orleans, but ranging from the Florida Panhandle to East Texas. King cake parties in New Orleans are documented back to the eighteenth century.  It has become customary in the New Orleans culture that whoever finds the trinket must provide the next king cake or host the next Mardi Gras party.”

The “trinket” that is most suggested to put into the cake is a small, plastic baby. Of course, the day I was looking for one of these babies, there were none to be found, so I used a whole pecan (which is also a suggestion in some recipes). You just might want to warn someone that they could brake a tooth on one of these little surprises in their King Cake.

If you are not in the mood to throw a Mardi Gras party or are not interested in all of the tradition and just want to make this cake because it is sooo good, I suggest that whoever gets the baby, nut or other trinket throws a Mardi Gras party (so you don’t have to), hosts some kind of shindig or picks up the tab for dinner! That works, don’t you think? 😉

Would you like a slice or two?

Bon Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras King Cake

Recipe courtesy of


1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup melted butter

1 cup confectioners’ sugar (I used 2 cups)
1 tablespoon water (I used about 2 1/2 tablespoons total)


For pastry:
Scald milk, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

For filling:
Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.

To assemble:
Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10×16 inches or so). Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 oval shaped rings. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Push the doll into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm with the confectioners’ sugar blended with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.
Note: My cakes took about 25 minutes to bake. I covered them with aluminum foil at about 15 minutes to avoid excessive browning.

Note: When you are ready to ice the cakes, you might want to make the icing seperate for each cake, especially if you are going to sprinkle them with colored sugars. The icing hardens pretty quickly.