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A homemade Mardi Gras king cake with jars of colored sugar in the background.
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5 from 5 votes

Mardi Gras King Cake

Enjoy this delicious homemade Mardi Gras King Cake this year and let the good times roll! Made with a sweet brioche dough and a cinnamon or cream cheese filling, this is the best king cake recipe and 1,000x better than anything you'll find in a grocery store or bakery!
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Rising Time3 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 55 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Servings: 20 servings
Calories: 307kcal
Author: Amy Nash

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ cup salted butter
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • cup warm water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 to 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour spooned & leveled (625g to 688g)

Full Batch Cinnamon Filling Option

  • cup brown sugar
  • cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour (68g)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted

Full Batch Cream Cheese Filling Option

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons salted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 Tablespoon salted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Dough

  • Heat milk and butter for 60-90 seconds in a microwave safe bowl. Add the salt, then set aside to cool until just warm (about 120° to 130°F).
  • In a separate bowl, combine the warm water, about 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and the yeast. Stir, then let it sit for 5-10 minutes until the yeast is foamy.
  • Once the yeast is foamy, add the milk and butter, the remaining sugar, the eggs, and 1 cup of the flour. Mix well, then continue adding flour while kneading with the dough hook attachment, 1 cup at a time. Only add the additional ½ cup of flour if the dough is really sticky. Knead for 5 minutes on medium speed or 8-10 minutes by hand to create a very soft dough that starts coming away from the sides of the bowl.
  • Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead a few times by hand until a smooth, round ball forms. Clean and lightly oil the bowl, then return the dough to the bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.

Filling

  • For the cinnamon filling, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter, mixing to combine. Set aside. Only use half of the amounts if you are only filling one king cake with this filling.
  • For the cream cheese filling, combine the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, softened butter, and vanilla in a bowl. Beat well until smooth. Set aside. Only use half of the amounts if you are only filling one king cake with this filling.

Assembly

  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide in half. Roll out one half of the dough into a large rectangle on a lightly floured surface, roughly 10x16-inches. Use a pizza cutter to divide the dough in half lengthwise to create two long rectangles.
  • Crumble the cinnamon filling or spread cream cheese filling evenly over the dough and roll up into two long cylinders, just like when making cinnamon rolls. Twist the two logs together into a rope braid, then transfer to the prepared baking sheet, shaping into an oval and pinching the ends together. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise for 30-45 minutes until puffy.
  • Preheat oven to 335°F while the king cake is rising. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and baked through. The cake should be done when it reaches 190° to 195°F on a digital thermometer inserted into the center of each loaf. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

Frosting

  • Beat the powdered sugar, milk, butter, lemon juice, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth. The frosting should be pourable but thick.
  • Stick a plastic baby figurine into each cake, pushing it down in to hide it. Drizzle the frosting over both king cakes, spreading it with a spatula if needed for good coverage. Sprinkle with the purple, green, and gold sugar while the frosting is still wet before it has a chance to set.
  • Slice and serve. Whoever gets the slice with the baby gets to be king or queen for the day!

Notes

  • Storage: King Cake is best served fresh the day it is made, but it will keep for 2-3 days on the counter at room temperature or up to 1 week in the fridge. Store it covered in an airtight container or with plastic wrap.
  • Freezing: You can freeze a finished King Cake for up 2-3 months. Wrap it well with plastic wrap to protect it and keep it stored in an airtight container. Let it thaw on the counter for 2-3 hours before serving.
  • Helpful tools: Use a pizza cutter to easily cut the dough in half. This can also be made without braiding by just rolling up one half of the dough as one thick log. You will also need a rolling pin for rolling out the dough and parchment paper for lining the baking sheets.
  • Instant Yeast: If using instant yeast, the recipe stays the same, but the steps are slightly different. Add the instant yeast to your mixing bowl with 3 cups of the flour and the sugar first. Stir together, then add the warm milk, water, melted butter, beaten eggs, vanilla, and salt, mixing with the paddle attachment until smooth. Then switch to the dough hook and add the remaining flour, proceeding as normal with the kneading until you have a soft, smooth dough. Let the dough rise for 1 hour in the fridge instead of the 1-2 hours on the counter until doubled in size.
  • Refrigerating the dough overnight: If you want to make your king cake in advance, but bake it fresh the day of, you can refrigerate the dough overnight instead of letting it rise on the counter. Then on the day you want to bake it, let it come to room temperature for an hour or two in the morning before rolling out and shaping like normal.
  • More filling ideas: Use the cream cheese filling with a can of strawberry, cherry, or blueberry pie filling. Or try filling with apple pie filling, german chocolate cake frosting, or whatever else you can think of!
  • Colored sugar: If you have a hard time finding the colored sugar, you can always order it online or make your own! All it takes is a few drops of food coloring and ½ cup of granulated sugar in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Just combine them in the jar and shake well until the sugar is evenly dyed. But I usually have no trouble finding my colored sugar at craft stores though like Joann's, Michael's, or Hobby Lobby.

Nutrition

Calories: 307kcal | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 31mg | Sodium: 236mg | Potassium: 81mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 28g | Vitamin A: 206IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 35mg | Iron: 2mg