King Cake is a traditional dessert that originated in New Orleans. It's part coffee cake and part cinnamon roll featuring homemade dough that's braided and filled with a buttery brown sugar and cinnamon mixture. It can be enjoyed any time of day as a hand held sweet treat.
Homemade King Cake Recipe
What's the significance of King Cake? It comes from the biblical story of three kings who came to see and worship the Baby Jesus. It features flavors that are a cross between coffee cake and cinnamon rolls decorated with vibrant purple, gold and green colored sprinkles. Traditionally, there's a small baby inserted into the cake after baking, and whoever finds the baby has the honor of bringing the King Cake to the next celebration. Many vendors and bakeries in New Orleans make and ship King Cakes all over the country in early January between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. I thought it would be fun to have a recipe to make at home.
How to Make the Best King Cake Recipe
- Ingredients you'll need to make homemade King Cake: All purpose flour, granulated sugar, rapid rise yeast, warm whole milk, melted butter, salt, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, light brown sugar, large egg yolks plus one whole egg for the egg wash, vanilla extract, almond extract, powdered sugar, heavy cream plus purple, gold and green sanding sugars.
- Kitchen tools you'll need: A stand mixer or a hand mixer, large bowl, medium bowl, whisk, measuring cups and spoons, two baking pans, citrus zester, parchment paper and pastry brush. You'll also need a small bowl to make the icing.
- This recipe can be divided in half to make two smaller King Cakes.
- You can increase the thickness and flavor of the sweet glaze to suit your taste. It can easily be doubled.
- You can swap out orange zest for lemon in the batter for another citrus twist or omit the lemon zest altogether. Since this is my recipe, I love the bright flavor it gives to the batter.
- King Cakes come with a variety of fillings depending on the baker's preference. This recipe reflects the most commonly found brown sugar, cinnamon and butter mixture. You could add ½ cup of toasted and finely chopped pecans or walnuts to the filling for extra texture and crunch, if desired. Should you choose to do so, once you spread the filling over the dough, just sprinkle the nuts on top.
- I highly recommend adding the king baby to the underside of the cake after baking, not before.
- Store baked King Cake in an airtight container either chilled or at room temperature for up to 4 days. It will last longer when chilled, and you can gently reheat slices in single servings in the microwave or enjoy it at room temperature.
More New Orleans Inspired Recipes to Make
- Cajun Orzo with Andouille Sausage is a one skillet meal.
- Crawfish Etouffee is a classic served with a scoop of rice.
- Scrumptious Cajun Dirty Rice is a side you can serve with chicken, steak or pork.
- Shrimp Po'boy filled with crispy fried shrimp.
- Cajun Collard Greens are seasoned with bacon.
- Start the day with these kicked up Creole Sausage Balls.
- Cajun Chicken Pasta features a creamy sauce filled with andouille sausage.
- You may also like this Crawfish Boil from Food Network.
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Helpful Kitchen Items:
- 1 cup lukewarm whole milk (110°-115°F)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 (0.25 oz each) packets rapid rise yeast
- 4 ½ - 5 ½ cups all purpose flour plus additional for dusting work space
- 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup unsalted butter melted
- 5 large egg yolks beaten
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1-2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
- 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon cold water for egg wash
- ¾ cup light brown sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 tablespoon unsalted butter softened
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 5-7 tablespoon heavy cream plus additional as needed to thin
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- purple, green and gold sanding sugars and plastic baby
- To make the Cake: Pour the warm milk into the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. To the milk add granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of flour, mixing on low until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved. Let stand for 8-10 minutes until the top is bubbly and foamy.
- In a separate medium bowl, whisk together 5 cups flour, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. (Reserve ½ cup to add if the dough isn't pulling away from the bowl while kneading.)
- With mixer on low speed beat in butter, egg yolks, vanilla and lemon zest into the yeast mixture. Switch to the dough hook. Gradually add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
- Increase the speed of the mixer and knead for 7-10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl. (If it doesn't, add 1 Tablespoon of the reserved flour at a time until it does pull away.)
- Remove dough from bowl to a lightly floured surface and turn and knead just until it's no longer sticky. Shape it into a large ball. (If kneading by hand, knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 10-15 minutes.)
- Grease the bowl, then put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel and set aside in a warm draft-free place to let it rise, for 1 ½-2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.
- To Make the Filling: In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and ground cinnamon. Mix butter with cinnamon mixture until fully combined.
- To Form the Cake: Gently punch down dough to release air. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into roughly a 10 x 20 inch rectangle. Spread the filling on one half of the long side of the dough leaving a 1 inch border. Fold the dough in half covering the filling. Press dough down firmly so the dough will stick together.
- Cut dough lengthwise into three long 20 inch strips. Press the tops of the strips together and braid. Press the ends together at the bottom. Gently stretch the braid so that it measures 20 inches again and is even in thickness and shape. Form into a circle and press the edges together.
- Carefully transfer ring to a parchment lined baking sheet. Reshape as needed. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm draft free place until doubled in size, about 30-60 minutes.
- To Bake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Once it's doubled in size, uncover and brush on all sides with egg wash. Bake until the braid is golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool.
- To Make the Icing: For the icing, while the cake is cooling, whisk together the powdered sugar, heavy cream, vanilla and almond extract until smooth and spreadable. If the icing is too thick, add a bit more cream; if it's too loose, add a little more powdered sugar.
- Once the cake has cooled, spread the icing over the top of the cake allowing it to drip down the sides. Immediately sprinkle with purple, green, and gold (yellow) decorative sanding sugars while the icing is still wet. Tuck the plastic baby into the underside of the cake.
- Slice and enjoy.
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