Fat Tuesday King Cake

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Fat Tuesday, everyone!  Though I am not currently in New Orleans sipping on a hurricane, that doesn’t mean I’m not partaking in the traditional gluttony of the day, namely in the baked form known as King Cake.

I’ve always been hesitant to try making King Cake because it’s a brioche dough and goodness knows I have issues with yeast doughs.  It’s not the yeast that’s the problem, it’s “the dough is really sticky, do I add more flour?  Did I add too much flour and now it’s too dense and heavy?  Will the dough ever come out from under my fingernails?”  I was shocked at how easy this came together.  It’s a great beginners recipe for yeasty recipes!

While researching for this post, I read a lot of recipes over the last few days and found some great ones.  This is a pretty simple straightforward one, a sweet delicious brioche dough and a cinnamon cream cheese filling.  It’s so satisfying (especially with coffee) that I really wouldn’t mind if I used only this recipe for the rest of my life, but I can’t wait to make it again soon with additions to the dough like nutmeg and lemon zest.

Tradition states you hide a tiny plastic baby in the cake; the person who finds it gets good luck for the entire year but also has to bring the King Cake to next year’s party.  I didn’t have a tiny plastic baby on hand on such short notice.  If I had my wits about me, I would have hidden a pecan half in there somewhere since it’s an edible object, but I wasn’t thinking so I brought the cake to the office sans good luck charm.  The ruckus everyone made made it very clear that I made a huge mistake and so, without anything better, I resorted to pushing a nickel up from the bottom of the bread and just had to cross my fingers that no one broke a tooth or choked (we’re all safe, thankfully).

Eat up-the one I brought into the office went quickly-and enjoy this day of excess by having another slice!

King Cake
Adapted from Foodie Bride’s friend Erica


  • 1 cup warm water, about 105 degrees
  • 1/4 cup sugar (1 tablespoon measured out of that 1/4 cup and set aside)
  • 1 pkg yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting work surface
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Oil or cooking spray, for coating bowl


  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 rounded tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter


  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 teaspoon water
  • green, purple & yellow decorating sugar OR 3/4 cups plain sugar, divided into three bowls, 1/4 cup sugar per bowl and green, red, blue, and yellow food coloring


  1. In a large mixing bowl, add the warm water, that one tablespoon of sugar you measured out, and the yeast.  Let it sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the melted butter, egg, egg yolk, what’s left of the 1/4 cup of sugar, 3 cups flour, and salt.  Stir with a large wooden spoon until the dough comes together (I added the flour in 3 portions, mixing thoroughly after each).  Have an extra 1/2 cup of flour on hand in case the dough is way too sticky, but I have to say that this is the first yeast dough I’ve ever done where I didn’t have to add any extra flour at all and it was just right.  It should be just a little sticky, and look a little lumpy.
  3. Lightly oil a large metal bowl and transfer the dough into the bowl.  Cover with a dish towel and let the dough rise in a warm spot until double in size, about an hour.
  4. In the meantime while the dough is rising, clean the kitchen (at least that’s what I did, because I didn’t want to torture my roommate any more), set the oven to heat to 375 degrees and then make the filling.
  5. Add cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk, vanilla and cinnamon (that’s everything BUT the melted butter) to a medium mixing bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat on medium until the filling is smooth and spreadable, which won’t take too long.
  6. When the dough is done rising, sprinkle a surface (I covered my dining room table with saran wrap) with flour and roll the dough out with a rolling pin until it is a rectangle approximately 12″ tall and 18″ wide.
  7. Using a pastry brush, brush the melted butter over the dough, leaving an inch or so of dough along the farthest wide edge dry.
  8. Spread the cinnamon cream cheese filling evenly over the dough (leaving that inch of dough dry again).
  9. Taking the wide edge of the dough closest to you, gently roll it up and away from you, forming a big giant cinnamon roll log.  Pinch the long seam closed as best you can, then arrange the rolled up dough in a ring shape on a baking sheet, pinching the two open ends together to close the ring.  I tried to stretch it out as best I could so that it would hold a little of its ring shape instead of just baking up into one big ball.  Emeril Lagasse suggests putting a well greased coffee can in the middle there so that the hole doesn’t close up.
  10. Bake for 25 minutes until nicely golden brown on top (I prefer my baked goods lighter rather than darker, but in this case I went for the whole 25 minutes to ensure the inside was baked properly and the top was only slightly darker golden than I normally go for).
  11. Let the bread cool on a wire rack before glazing.
  12. If you are coloring your own sugar, do that now-I highly recommend it because, though it took an extra 10 minutes or so of work, it was worth it because it was free (I already had sugar and food coloring in my cabinets) versus paying $6 for pre-colored sugars.  In the first bowl, I used 3 drops of yellow, in the second I used 3 drops of green, and in the third bowl I used 3 drops of blue and 3 drops of red.  The food coloring will basically just stick to a little clump of sugar, but if you take a spoon and keep jabbing at that little droplet, it will break up and color the rest of the sugar.  The Boyfriend and I (isn’t he sweet to help?) took about 5 minutes per bowl of stirring, tapping and jabbing, but I think the colors turned out nicely!
  13. To make the glaze, add all the ingredients in except for the colored sugars into a small mixing bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined and smooth.  The thickness of the glaze is up to you; I wanted one that was pourable but that wouldn’t just drip right over the sides and look messy.  You can add a little water (a little goes a looooong way here) or some powdered sugar to adjust the glaze to your desired thickness.  Save a little glaze to drizzle over the top of the sugar afterwards or just use this now and then later throw together a little sugar and water until it’s drizzling consistency.
  14. Let the glaze set for 5 minutes or so before decorating.  King Cakes are usually decorated in alternating stripes of the green-yellow-purple colors, but you can get creative if you want!  Just be sure to lay the sugar on thick, because I tried to go thin on my sugar layer and the white glaze underneath would start to show through (in some cases the sugar dissolved and in other cases the glaze would get heavy with the sugar and start to drip farther down the side of the cake, so there would be white stripes where the sugar had slid down.  Being heavy handed on the sugar solved both of these problems!).  Drizzle with some extra glaze.
  15. Serve with coffee and enjoy your Fat Tuesday!



  • Lorelei

    Oh my Gosh! I am gonna have to say this is a favorite of mine. Since New Orleans holds my heart and I love the suspense of seeing who gets the lil gold trinket, every year it is fun to celebrate Fat Tuesday with this delicious treat. Your cake was better than the ones I’ve had before from NOLA. (that’s a big ol compliment)

    Thanks for a fun, and deliciously sweet start to this day.

    p.s. sorry I yelled at you to stick something in there. Its just I had been thinking about it all night. I wonder who is gonna get it. I guess I wished it upon myself. hahaha

  • PeteH

    In New Orleans at any rate, you DON’T want the hidden object to be edible — because the tradition in the week leading up to Fat Tuesday is “whoever finds the baby buys the next King Cake”. So there’s a common saying “Swallow the Baby”.

    All sorts of things used to be hidden in the cake - a bean, a coin, a ring. In fact there were little porcelain “beans” that were shaped like a baby on the concave side. I’ve heard that those are rare and coveted antiques, nowadays.

    • Emily

      Great info, Pete! I love learning facts like that! So I guess my nickel was spot on, ha ha.

      I would love to find one of those beans sometime!

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