King Cake, New Orleans

King Cake

Tuck in to this traditional King Cake recipe perfected by master chef John Besh. King Cake is a long standing tradition in New Orleans around Mardi Gras and the Carnival season. Since the 1800s, New Orleanians have celebrated the beginning of the Carnival Season with a "King's Cake" on the Twelfth Night. A small plastic baby is baked inside the cake and the person who discovers it is said to have good fortune for the year. The recipient then continues the festivities by having another party and providing another King Cake....and so it continues!

Ingredients for the cake

  • 1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°F 
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast 
  • 3 3/4 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 

Ingredients for the icing

  • 2 cups powdered sugar 
  • 1/4 cup condensed milk 
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 
  • Purple, green, and gold decorative sugars 
  • 1 fève (fava bean) or plastic baby to hide in the cake after baking 


  1. For the cake, pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.
  2. Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the remaining flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and fold in the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a large rubber spatula.
  3. 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.
  4. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to let it proof, or rise, for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C. 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. Braid or plait the 3 ropes around one another and then form the braided loaf into a circle, pinching ends together to seal. Gently lay the dough on a non stick baking sheet and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes.
  6. Once it's doubled in size, place the baking tray in the oven and bake until the braid is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
  7. For the icing, while the cake is cooling, whisk together the icing sugar, condensed milk, and lemon juice in a bowl until the icing is smooth and very spreadable. If the icing is too thick, add a bit more condensed milk; if it's a touch too loose, add a little more icing sugar.
  8. 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. Tuck the fève or plastic baby into the underside of the cake and, using a spatula, slide the cake onto a platter.

Discover more about Mardi Gras in Louisiana and ten things you might not know about Mardi Gras!

*note: image pictured is not exact to this recipe


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