King Cake

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Hands-on Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours 30 minutes (includes rising and cooling time)
Serves: 18



Mardi Gras season begins on January 6, known as Twelfth Night or Three Kings Day. Meant to represent a jeweled crown, King Cake -- topped with purple, green, and gold sugars signifying justice, faith, and power, respectively -- celebrates the three kings who came bearing gifts at Jesus' birth. Inside each cake hides a tiny toy baby, and tradition dictates that whoever finds it must host the next party (or serve the next King Cake).

What you'll need

  • FOR THE CAKE
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 5 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • small plastic toy baby
  • FOR THE FILLING
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • FOR THE TOPPING
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons water or milk
  • Gold-, green-, and purple-colored sugar
Helpful Tip:

To keep the ring from closing during baking, fill the center hole with a ramekin about 2 inches tall and 3 inches wide.

How to make it

  1. For the cake, microwave the butter and milk in a small bowl until the butter has almost melted, about 1 minute. Stir the mixture, then microwave it until the butter has completely melted, about 30 seconds more. Stir in the vanilla extract, then allow the mixture to cool to a lukewarm temperature (around 110°).

  2. Meanwhile, in another small bowl, add the yeast to the water, stir once, then let it rest for 5 minutes.

  3. In a large bowl, use a whisk to combine the flour and sugar. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, slowly pour the yeast mixture into the well, and use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to fold and combine.

    Add the butter mixture, folding to combine, then add the eggs, folding to combine them as well.

  4. Transfer the dough onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth and stretchy, about 8 minutes, adding more flour if the dough is too wet. Place the dough in a large, clean, generously oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap.

    Allow the dough to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours.

  5. Combine all the filling ingredients with a fork until they are well blended.

  6. Line a 13- by 16-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and roll it into a 10- by 16-inch rectangle.

    Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a 1-inch strip uncovered at one long end. Beginning at the opposite end, roll up the dough jelly roll–style, pinching the seam closed with your fingers.

  7. Place the roll on the prepared baking sheet and shape it to form a 13-inch-wide ring. Lightly wet the edges of the ring's ends with water, then pinch them to seal them together. With a knife, cut slashes about 1/2 inch deep into the top of the dough around the entire ring.

    Cover the ring with plastic wrap and let it rise for 45 minutes.

  8. Heat the oven to 350°. Bake the cake until it is light brown, about 30 minutes. Place it on a wire rack to cool, about 3 to 5 minutes, then insert the toy baby into the top of the cake. Cool the cake for another 30 minutes.

  9. Meanwhile, make the icing by whisking together the confectioners' sugar and water or milk. Ice the cake while it is still slightly warm, then immediately top it with the purple, gold, and green sugars, alternating the colors (this will hide the baby's location).

Nutritional Information

Per serving (1/18 of recipe) Calories 297, Total Fat 10 g (15%), Saturated Fat 6 g (29%), Cholesterol 59 mg (20%), Sodium 68 mg (3%), Total Carbohydrate 48 g (16%), Fiber 0.9 g (4%), Sugars 21 g, Protein 5 g (10%)

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