King Cake for Mardi Gras!


Happy Mardi Gras Y’all!

Firstly, allow me to make one thing clear… When I speak of Mardi Gras, I am of course referring to the New Orleans carnival celebration that happens in the weeks prior to Lent. This is not to be confused with the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras which is held around the same time in Sydney. As you might imagine, they each have very different traditions and as far as I’m aware, the NOLA version has far fewer Dykes on Bikes.

King cakes are a circular brioche style loaf/cake, very similar to a yeasty cinnamon bun. They are traditionally eaten in the period leading up to Mardi Gras, and decorated with the carnival colours of purple, green and gold. King cakes usually have a tiny little doll hidden within, known as the “baby”. Custom dictates that whoever ends up with the baby in their slice is obligated to supply the next king cake. Some Mardi Gras Krewes even use the baby system to select their carnival monarchs.

I’ve made chef John Besh’s recipe for several years now, and love the result. Next step is to up my game and try for a cream cheese stuffing.

A traditional king cake calls for coloured sugar as decoration, so here’s a handy way to DIY. You simply put a cup of sugar in a zip loc bag and pop in 2-3 drops of food colouring. I use gel colours, but liquid colours are probably even easier. Then, you seal up the bag and smoosh it with your fingers until all the grains are coated. Hooray!


Enjoy – hopefully next year you’ll be eating your king cake in New Orleans.

John Besh's King Cake
As you knead the dough for this Mardi Gras cake, watch for it to begin to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl. If that doesn’t happen (because the moisture content in flour fluctuates with the humidity), add a spoonful or two more flour
  • 1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 3¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 5 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Several gratings of fresh nutmeg

  1. Pour the warm milk into a large bowl.
  2. Whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.
  3. Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest.
  4. Add the remaining flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a large rubber spatula.
  5. After the dough comes together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl, shape it into a large ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.
  6. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a draft-free place to let it proof, or rise, for 1½ hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  7. Preheat the oven to 375°. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough between your palms into a long strip, making 3 ropes of equal length.
  8. Braid the 3 ropes around one another and then form the braided loaf into a circle, pinching ends together to seal.
  9. Gently lay the braided dough on a nonstick cookie sheet and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes.
  10. Once it’s doubled in size, place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake until the braid is golden brown, about 30 minutes.
  11. Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
  12. Once the cake has cooled, spread the icing over the top of the cake and sprinkle with purple, green, and gold decorative sugars while the icing is still wet.
  13. Tuck the fève or plastic baby into underside of the cake and, using a spatula, slide the cake onto a platter.

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Posted on Mar 7, 2011


  1. Love it! Just gorrrrgeous:)

  2. TarheelBorn says:

    Being a transplanted Texan from NC, I have discovered King Cake. It ranks among my favorite desserts. Plus, I don’t think John Besh makes anything bad so I must try this recipe. Thanks for posting. I’m three for three of your recipes tonight. Keep up the good work.

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