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Traditional New Orleans King Cake

Total Time

Prep: 40 min. + rising Bake: 25 min. + cooling

Makes

1 cake (12 pieces)

Updated: Dec. 21, 2022
Get in on the fun of traditional king cake by hiding a little toy baby in the cake. Whoever finds it has one year of good luck! —Rebecca Baird, Salt Lake City, Utah
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Ingredients

  • 2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (110° to 115°)
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup warm 2% milk (110° to 115°)
  • 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3-1/4 to 3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • GLAZE:
  • 1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons water
  • Green, purple and yellow sugars

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 1/2 cup sugar, butter, milk, egg yolks, salt, lemon zest, nutmeg and 2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).
  2. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  3. Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 16x10-in. rectangle. Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar; sprinkle over dough to within 1/2 in. of edges. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; pinch seam to seal. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet; pinch ends together to form a ring. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Brush with egg.
  4. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack. For glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice and enough water to achieve desired consistency. Spread over cake. Sprinkle with colored sugars.
King Cake Tips

Do you have to hide a toy baby in traditional New Orleans king cake?

In the Christian tradition, Epiphany is celebrated the twelfth day after Christmas. That's said to be the day that the three kings arrived to see baby Jesus. This is why a baby is hidden in a traditional New Orleans king cake. Finding the baby in your slice of cake symbolizes good luck and prosperity. You, of course, don't need to hide a toy baby in the cake to enjoy king cake. You can leave it out, or put something that's actually edible in the cake like a whole pecan or a pea instead. Find more Mardi Gras recipes and Fat Tuesday recipes to splurge on!

Can you use other colors of sanding sugars to make king cake?

King cake is decorated with traditional colors of purple, gold and green. These signify the colors of a jeweled crown honoring the wise men who visited baby Jesus on Epiphany. Purple represents justice, green for faith and gold for power. Other colors can be used, but purple, green and gold are customary.

How should you store king cake?

Like most sweet bread recipes, it's best to store New Orleans king cake in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 to 2 days or 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator. King cake can be frozen for up to 3 months before it's glazed. Thaw overnight at room temperature, then add the glaze and colored sugar.

Peggy Woodward, Taste of Home Senior Food Editor

Nutrition Facts

1 piece: 321 calories, 9g fat (5g saturated fat), 73mg cholesterol, 313mg sodium, 55g carbohydrate (28g sugars, 1g fiber), 5g protein.

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