New Orleans Mardi Gras King Cake

Some of you out there might know that this Tuesday (tomorrow!) is Mardi Gras. Which makes today Lundi Gras, which I’m pretty positive isn’t a holiday for anyone who lives outside of New Orleans. As some of you out there in the ether of the internet know, I spent my undergrad years in the fair city of our New Orleans. It became home. As much as I love New York, part of my heart never left the bayou.

King Cake is traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras season fare. Yes, Mardi Gras season. It’s not just a day; it’s a full few months of the year. Parades start rolling a week or so before actual Mardi Gras day and Krewe balls and parties start as early as the day after Twelfth Night. And King Cakes are featured at every fete you go to. A simple treat, it’s essentially a brioche dough usually with some cinnamon. Some people like theirs filled (cream cheese, pecans and brown sugar, fruit filling to name a few popular ones..) some like the dough free of any accoutrements other than the light glaze and colored sugar on top. You can buy King Cakes anywhere- from the supermarket to upscale bakeries.  And never forget the baby. Even if the baby is an alien creature from the grocery store coin machines.

Tradition has it that if you get the baby in your piece of cake, you have to throw the next party (and provide the next cake). This ensures that festivities continue for the entire season. However, there is a caveat to all this King Cake enjoyment– you cannot have King Cake after Mardi Gras. Absolutement, non. King Cake can only be consumed between Twelfth Night and Mardi Gras day. Period. No questions. This means, of course, that this post is a reminder to make your cake NOW.

I’ve made a King Cake every year since I left the city and it’s like having a bit of home and cheer in your kitchen. It was even better last year when the Super Bowl fell during Mardi Gras season and our boys won it for us [WHO DAT!] . The King Cake this year still kind of tastes like victory.

Je souhaite vous-autres, votre famille et vos amis un Mardi Gras sauve et plein de bon temps!

King Cake

Adapted from 3 different recipes



  • 2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
  • 1/2 c. white sugar
  • 1 c. warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1/2 c. butter, melted
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest


  • 1/4 c. chopped pecans
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. (1/2 a stick) melted butter


  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • food coloring

Heat milk on stove until scalded (100 F). In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and white sugar in warm milk. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

Stir the egg yolks and melted butter into the milk mixture. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, nutmeg and lemon zest. Beat the flour mixture 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 supple, about 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, pecans, cinnamon and butter. This can be done a few minutes before the dough is done rising. Set aside. [You can make more filling if you wish, this makes for a meager filling]

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Roll the dough out into a 6×30 inch rectangle, or the best you can approximate. Spread filling across the center of the dough. Bring the two long edges together and seal completely. Using your hands, shape the dough into a long cylinder and place on a greased baking sheet, seam-side down. Shape the dough into a ring, twisting as you go to create a pretty shape.

Cover with a towel and place in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake in preheated oven until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Allow bread to cool. Drizzle cooled cake with lemon/sugar glaze and decorate with candy sprinkles. Stick the baby (or alien)  inside the cake.


About Wish

A graduate student with two cats and a passion for good food and good conversation, both preferably shared with friends.
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3 Responses to New Orleans Mardi Gras King Cake

  1. Suzanne says:

    oooh! sparkle cake!

  2. Jess says:

    That looks fantastic! Well done, Wish 😀

  3. Andrew says:

    Bien merci, Wish!
    Je vais donner ce lien ci à mon cousin, qui s’habite asteur en quelque État sans gâteaux des Rois.
    (Long time since I’ve spoken or written French, Louisianais or otherwise, mo mhairg a rá. Hope that makes some sort of sense.:-)

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