So this year has been kind of crazy–Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year, and Mardi Gras are all happening within just a few days of each other (well, and President’s Day, but let’s face it, President’s Day has never excited people gastronomically in the same way…)

We moved to Louisiana exactly two years ago. When we went to the grocery store for the first time, we weren’t just bowled over by the shockingly high price of milk, but also by these pastry rings that were sprinkled with yellow, purple, and green sugar. And I won’t lie, I thought they looked pretty horrible. Turns out they were King Cakes and I can still say that I’ve never seen one that I didn’t think was pretty ugly. Even my own:

Well, off-put by its apparent unappetizingness, I never tried King Cake that year. But last year, after my son’s preschool Mardi Gras parade, there was a King Cake party afterwards and I had it for the first time. I’ll admit, I was apprehensive–not only did I think they were ugly, but I had also heard from many Louisiana locals that they didn’t like King Cake.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, though, I decided to give it a shot. Now…I’ll say that I can definitely see how King Cake could go horribly wrong, but the King Cake from the kitchen of my son’s preschool was amazing. Soft, flaky almost-pastry-like yeast dough, cream cheese and cherry filling, almond glaze on top. I tried making one last year, but the insides didn’t get done and I was thoroughly King Caked-out at that point. This year, however, I decided to use my fall-back cinnamon roll dough recipe (thank you, Pioneer Woman) and improvised my own filling. I also discovered it’s important to make sure the “log” doesn’t get too thick because if it does, the insides will be doughy and raw. Yuck.

So anyway, upon further experimentation, I gave a few King Cakes to some native Louisianans to get their opinions. Overwhelming response? Best King Cake they’d ever eaten. There was some chagrin that it was baked by a Westerner, but hey, I’ve got a big heart and a smart mouth, so I fit right in… :)

One thing I’ve left out is the plastic baby, not because I’m opposed to plastic or babies, but because I would have to buy them in bulk. Quite frankly, I don’t need 32 naked, plastic babies hanging out over the next 32 years (because I’m not really baking more than 1 King Cake a year). The finder of the plastic baby gets to be king for the day, which is fun, so if you decide to do it, I’d recommend tucking the baby into the bottom of the cake after it’s baked rather than baking it in there because if there’s anything worse than finding a plastic baby in your food, it would be finding a melted plastic baby in your food.

King Cake
Recipe by Our Best Bites, dough from The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Dough

2 c. whole milk
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 c. sugar
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 heaping tsp. baking powder
1/2 scant tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt

Filling

1 8-oz. package cream cheese
3/4-ish c. powdered sugar. This depends on personal taste–once you’ve added the fruit filling, adjust the sweetness to taste.
1 tsp. almond extract
1/2 heaping c. cherry (or strawberry) pie filling

Glaze

8 oz. powdered sugar
4 Tbsp. melted butter
1 tsp. almond extract
Enough milk to make a glaze to desired consistency

Topping

Yellow, green, and purple colored sugars. If you’re having trouble finding a certain color, shake 1-2 drops of food coloring with 1/2 c. sugar in a sealed jar or other container and voila! Colored sugar!

First, you’ll want to prepare the dough. In a large (at least 4-quart) pot or saucepan, combine milk, sugar, and oil. Heat just to boiling, stirring occasionally, and then remove from heat.

If you’ve got lots of ice handy, dump all that you have into a clean sink and then place the pan of scalded milk over the ice. This way, the milk mixture cools quickly and the melted ice just drips down the drain.

When the milk is warm (around 105-115 degrees), remove from ice and sprinkle yeast over the milk mixture. Allow to stand for 10 minutes. Stir. Mix in 4 c. flour and cover. This can be done with a wooden spoon; the dough is VERY soft, more like a batter. Allow to stand for 1 hour.

Mix remaining 1/2 c. flour with baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Sprinkle over the dough and then mix it in with the wooden spoon. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the pan and refrigerate for at least a few hours and up to a few days.

When ready to make your King Cakes, prepare the filling. With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, almond extract, and powdered sugar until soft and fluffy. Mix in fruit filling and add more powdered sugar and/or fruit filling if you need to. Keep in mind that you’ll have the filling in a semi-sweet dough and topped with a sugar glaze PLUS a sugar garnish, so you might want to go easy on the sweetness.

To prepare cakes, turn dough onto a greased surface and divide in half. Roll one half into a 4-5″-24″ rectangle. Spread with 1/2 of the cream cheese mixture and then carefully fold the top half of the dough over the filling and then fold it again so you have a tube. Seal the edges of the dough and then carefully form a circle and seal the two ends together.

Place on a greased cookie sheet and cover with a clean cloth.

Preheat oven to 375 and repeat with other 1/2 portion of dough.

Bake each ring for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are deep, golden brown–you don’t want to burn them, but you want to make sure the cakes are cooked all the way through.

While the cakes are cooling, prepare the glaze. Mix powdered sugar and melted butter together with an electric mixer. Add in almond extract and then add enough milk to achieve the desired consistency you want for your glaze. When the cakes are cool, spoon the glaze over the cakes and then sprinkle with alternating yellow, purple, and green sugars. When ready to serve, cut into slices and watch out for that plastic baby! Happy Mardi Gras, everybody!

 

 

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39comments

  1. 1
    Marie says:

    Youare right when you say it is kinda ugly, but that slice of it looks mighty appealing to me! In fact it looks downright delicious! Happy Mardis Gras!!

  2. 2
    Trish says:

    That looks weird yet good. In my book any sweet dough, stuffed with cream cheese qualifies as good! I just might make one but since I am no where near Louisiana, nor do I celebrate MardiGras I'm thinking I can just forgo the fancy sugary glittery top…..

    now about that high priced milk:
    I live in bush Alaska. We have high priced milk……

    http://skippy-n-scoop.blogspot.com/2009/06/winner.html
    see for yourself!!

  3. 3
    jennie w. says:

    So that's what those cakes are! I've been seeing them at the grocery stores here in Texas lately. I figured they must be for Mardi Gras with that purple and green on top. I thought about sending a picture to cake wrecks because they are SO ugly, but then I realized they all looked that bad at every store I went to.

    By the way, our local cake shop sells babies a la carte (in three sizes!). Maybe you should check out one of those.

  4. 4
    EriKa says:

    My step-father was from New Orleans, and we would often celebrate everything with food. Mardi Gras was no exception. However, he would buy his king cakes, since he is diabetic (and wouldn't eat any). I always thought that they were gross and ugly to boot. So I am actually really excited to try your recipe (sans colored sugar…sorry I don't think I can do it). Oh and by the way, we tried the Baked Cheesy Chicken Pasta for our Valentine's Day meal…Yummy! I added spinich, and I would recommend it. It reminded me of a dish from Macaroni Grill. So yummy.
    Thanks for all your fabulous ideas! I love it!
    Oh and Happy Valentine's Day, President's Day and Mardi Gras!

  5. 5
    Me, Myself and Pie says:

    Who cares what it looks like. That sounds delicious!! (And I think it's pretty)

  6. 6
    Barb says:

    Thanks for the recipe! I love trying regional foods – and yes, it is ugly! =)

  7. 7
    The Lowe Girl says:

    I'll give this a try! I check your blog (OBB) and The Pioneer Woman Cooks regularly!! Makes me happy to see we both like her too!!

    Thanks for everything!

  8. 8
    Robin says:

    you had me at cheese and cherries.

  9. 9
    Sara @ Our Best Bites says:

    I had never even heard of a King Cake until my brother sent me one when he was in New Orleans. I shared it with my college roommates and we FREAKED out when someone bit into a naked plastic baby! haha. Good memories.

    Yours sounds yummy, I am already thinking of a million more uses for that yummy filing!

  10. 10
    Sara @ Our Best Bites says:

    Okay, and Trish those prices are seriously CRAZY!! I think I might buy my own cow!

  11. 11
    Cathy - wheresmydamnanswer says:

    Thank you for solving one of life's great mysteries! I was very unfamiliar with the King Cake but had heard the term a few times!! It is very festive!

  12. 12
    The Caple Crew says:

    I am so excited you put this recipe on here! I was just telling my husband the other day that I wanted to try baking our own King Cake this year! We live in the 2nd largest Mardi Gras town in Louisiana so this will be AWESOME! Thanks so much!
    And yes, Milk is expensive down here.

  13. 13
    the thrifty ba says:

    as someone who has eaten many king cakes…thank you! i am forwarding this to my sister (who got me hooked on king cakes) and i will be trying this!!!

  14. 14
    Heidi says:

    Thank you! Perfect timing,as I was trying to plan my Mardi Gras celebration for my daycare kiddos tomorrow. This will be way better than some cinnamon rolls in a circle that I try and pass off as King Cake. Now to dig to the back of the pantry and hope there is some almond extract.

  15. 15
    mommyx12 says:

    Oh we are going to make that. It caught the eye of my daughter so I assuming she is volunteering herself!

  16. 16
    Cusaks says:

    We just spent all day getting sunburned for plastic beads and stuffed animals, so I think we will top it off with another King Cake!

  17. 17
    Elaine says:

    I'd never heard of King Cakes until I read your post yesterday. Today I went to the grocery store here in Virginia, (I've only lived here for a year and a half) and guess what I saw? A King cake!! I doubt I would have paid any attention to them (I never noticed them last year) if I hadn't seen your blog.

  18. 18
    simply.food says:

    I loved the surprise filling inside.

  19. 19
    Ann-Marie says:

    First up I have to say I love this blog!!! Now I have one question to ask on regards to the milk used in the recipe. Does it have to be whole milk? I never use it really and always use lite. Thx in advance.

  20. 20
    Pamela Brown says:

    hi Sara: i never had a mother who taught me to cook; to bake yes, but not cook. You have become my "tutorial cooking mom". just wanted to say thx
    PS the marzipan carrots are the cutest ever for my Easter carrot cake! ;)
    thx, grandma pam/dawn's mom

  21. 21
    Ewp says:

    These look great! I'll have to try my hand at making my own soon…I live in Mobile, Al (where Mardi Gras was, in fact, invented) and we love them!

  22. 22
    Christi says:

    I lived in LA when I was in elementary school, we would bring a cake to school, and whoever got the baby had to bring the cake the next day/week. I've been making king cakes, in honor of my time down South-as a kid and a brief stint as an adult, for a few years. I've never made a filled one, so I'm excited to give it a try. In lieu of a plastic baby, I use a pecan, and whoever has the slice with the nut has good luck. My kids think it's great!

  23. 23
    Dacy2021 says:

    I am confused: Does this recipe make two individual cakes?

  24. 24
    Kate @ Our Best Bites says:

    Dacy, yes, this makes 2 cakes.

  25. 25
    kevnjess says:

    So, I live in CA and have nothing to compare this recipe with, but can say that it was VERY good. After I cut and ate my peice, I had to hurry the rest out of the house to the neighbors because I reallt think I could have ate the whole ring by myself.

  26. 26
    Betsy says:

    After living in New Orleans for 11 years, we actually began to think the king cakes didn’t look too bad. Your sense of good taste will be warped by the time you leave there. And, trust me. You’ll wish you had 32 plastic babies when you leave, because if you have to order them on line you’ll have to buy 144. Want me to send you some?

  27. 27
    Bayougirl says:

    I love, love, love king cakes! And yes, very expensive to buy and even more expensive to ship!!! I’ve never thought of them as ugly bc I grew up with them. Thx for the recipe. I will try this one next mg season. Ps- the king cake has a lot of history and religious symbolism.

  28. 28
    Bayougirl says:

    Everything you ladies make comes out amazingly cute and beautiful! That’s why these are not the most attractive pastries around! :)

  29. 29
    Jane T in NW Louisiana says:

    Getting the baby also means whomever gets the baby has to make/buy the next King Cake. I know there are bakeries everywhere in Louisiana who make “stuffed” King Cakes, but the best I have ever had were from a little place on the north side of Marksville, LA. They are all to die for!!

  30. 30
    Rebecca Chapman says:

    This looks, and sounds much better than the one I had in New Orleans! I can’t wait to try it… I still have my little gold naked baby, which awarded me a free dinner…

  31. 31
    Bama Jane says:

    We moved to Alabama almost two years ago- I COMPLETELY get what you are saying! THe milk is INSANELY expensive and the cream cheese. I am in love with your Beans and Rice and can’t wait to try your other southern recipes. Looking forward to Monday & Tuesday parades filled with flying beads that the snowbirds rip out of little kids hands or grab over their heads-ugh, cups, toys, etc. SO sorry but they are MUCH more exciting than the UT parades …. heee heee…..
    DO you have snowbirds in Louisianna?

    • 31.1

      WAY better than Utah parades, lol! We don’t have any snowbirds here–maybe they do a little further south (although that area is so expensive that I don’t know if they do or not). It’s normally pretty cold and dreary here in the winter (not THIS winter, thank goodness–it’s been amazing!) and it is not the most exciting area, hahaha!

  32. 32
    Ang says:

    Made this tonight for my son’s kindergarten class – they’re celebrating Fat Tuesday and I thought it’d be an interesting bit ofculture for them. I sliced a piece of the extra one for my husband while it was still warm, and he said it was one of the best things I’d ever made! Like a giant, filled donut. So, thanks very much for sharing Louisiana culture with a couple Oregonians in such a delicious way.

    Incidentally, I used about 3/4 C pie filling and did a pretty thin glaze while it was still warm, and it was pretty tasty like that. :)

  33. 33
    Blondie says:

    I just stumbled on this recipe after pinning your recipe for Dirty Rice (I’m with you … no small organ meats). My hairstylist was just telling me yesterday about King Cakes. I had never heard of them. She was down in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and spent $95 at the bakery on several different kinds. I thought, they must be some amazing cakes! And clearly ones that taste a lot better than they look! LOL

  34. 34
    auntiepatch says:

    Does anyone ever break a tooth on the baby or swallow the baby?

  35. 35
    Lena says:

    Thank you for this amazing recipe! My dad is from Slidell and so we grew up eating king cake but they were always way too sweet. This one is perfect. I’m not a huge almond extract fan so for the filling I did half almond extract and half vanilla. It was heavenly! Thanks for all your great recipes!

  36. 36
    Annie says:

    My husband went to school at Tulane for two years before Katrina and gets very nostalgic about his time in New Orleans. Yesterday I completely surprised him by making these King Cakes and your red beans and rice recipe. He said both recipes were the best he’s ever had!

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