The highlight of Mardi Gras is sinking your teeth into a nice sweet slice of King Cake, and hopefully not busting your chops on the little plastic baby hidden inside… Actually, one of the real highlights of Mardi Gras is making King Cake for friends. Since we can’t always order the real deal directly from New Orleans, it’s always better to make one from scratch or from some of these ideal cake-making suggestions.
What makes an authentic King Cake?
Would it be such a shock to admit that even the King Cakes in New Orleans aren’t making their King Cake recipes as faithful to the original ingredients that are typically used for King Cakes? That is until you consider that nuts and fruits are supposed to be in the cake mix for a specific reason. This is all fine and dandy when you have so many people who are all following what is currently popular.
The problem is that a King Cake is the physical representation of the gifts brought by the Three Kings to Jesus on the 12th day. Many stories also call them the Three Wise Men while secular religion calls them ‘The Magi’. They brought gifts from the Holy Land that would be considered very rare in those days, and certainly, a gift meant to honor a King. Though we don’t expect you’ll enjoy frankincense and myrrh, and gold? There’s a clue!
The one thing you see on every classic King Cake is a golden crown. This is said to represent the King of Kings which typically refers to Jesus being that figurehead. The history behind King Cakes is certainly easier to understand when the origin of these cakes was started for the celebrations of the 12th Night. According to this religious celebration, the very last night which represents the Epiphany is the final celebration involving the arrival of The Magi.
In the UK and throughout Europe, King Cakes were baked using fruits and nuts, and often a porcelain baby figure was baked into these cakes. Before this, peasants and common folk also used a Fava bean that represented a magical aspect. In short, they couldn’t afford a porcelain figure, so a bean was inserted and represented the ideals of the old gods which labeled Jesus as a type of Mock King or King of the Bean, who presides over the Carnival Celebration. Here are some King Cake making ideas listed by region.
The most common cake fillings also included nutmeg, ginger, currants, crushed almonds, mace, and cloves. This obviously dates back to a recipe from 1604 where a King Cake is described in old English. These days, most cakes are made with puff-like pastry that has almond cream added inside. The original King Cakes were truly an amazing sight and were the highlight of any bakery in that era seen inside the shop window as being incredible!
If you compare this to what is accepted now is simply a sign of the times, just as the tradition of the Yuletide season is most certainly forgotten. A Yule log is typically seasoned oak that burns the hottest during the coldest days of the year. It also meant that Yule logs that burned throughout the entire 12 nights would ensure prosperity in the New Year. It sounds like superstition, but for many in those days, this was never questioned to celebrate their devoted faith.
How to make a King Cake at home – Recipes
The King Cake that is made for Mardi Gras is very simple with a recipe that uses everyday ingredients that you might already have in your kitchen. You can also check our list of recommended baking accessories. Here’s a fun recipe that makes the popular cinnamon-flavored King Cake.
Ingredients (For the cake)
- 2 packs of active dry yeast
- cup warm water (110-115F)
- cup sugar (divided into two)
- cup butter (softened)
- cup warm milk (110-115F)
- 2 large egg yolks (room temperature)
- 1 large egg (beaten)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest (grated)
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (ground)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 1/4-3 cups all-purpose flour
Ingredients (For the glaze)
- 1 cups sugar (confectioners’)
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2-3 tablespoons of water
- Yellow, Green, and Purple-colored sugar
Instructions (for making King Cake)
- Using a large mixing bowl, start by dissolving your yeast packets in warm water. Add half a cup of sugar, egg yolks, milk, and butter. This is followed by the lemon zest, nutmeg, and two cups of flour. This needs to be beaten until you have a smooth mixture. After this, add the remaining flour and mix until you get a sticky dough.
- Scrape out your dough onto a well-powdered surface to knead the dough. This will take 6-8 minutes to get a nice elastic dough. Now return the dough into a new bowl that is greased with oil. Flip your dough so all the surface of the dough is covered with oil. This can now be covered and allowed to rise for 1 hour.
- Take your dough that has doubled in size to your prep area where you will n3eed to roll out the dough. It needs to be well dusted with flour so it doesn’t stick. Roll out this dough until you have roughly 16 inches by 10 inches. This surface is then topped with your cinnamon and sugar mixture leaving half an inch untouched by the sugar mixture. This is then rolled up to create a Jelly-roll piece of dough that is 16 inches long.
- This can then be placed onto a baking sheet with non-stick baking paper. The roll is placed onto this baking sheet and formed into a round donut-like shape and squished together at the edges. The bottom seam should be placed underneath so it doesn’t show and this should be allowed to make a second rise for one more hour. The entire surface needs to be coated with the egg mixture before baking.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 25 to 30 minutes. The surface should be golden brown at this point. Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack for one hour before glazing. Prepare your glaze mixture and drip this randomly down the sides as you like, similar to a Bundt cake. You can decide to make your glaze thicker if you like drips that are easier to control. The colored sprinkle is added to the glaze while it’s still wet.
- The last step is decorating and slicing into pieces for serving to guests. If you have a plastic baby, hide this somewhere among the slices for your guests to find. Just remind them that it’s not edible.
Making a King Cake Fast and Easy
For this, you want to keep an open mind when it comes to making a Mardi Gras King Cake that you can add your own flavors. You want to start with a foolproof cake mix that is going to give you great results when baking your cake inside a cake form. In this case, you want to have a rounded Bundt cake cooking tin or similar that is oven-safe. The cake mix also needs to be as easy as 1-2-3. This is why you can always trust Betty Crocker Pound Cake Mix.
The instructions are very simple and require using milk or water, butter, and 2 eggs. Whatever else you decide to add for flavoring is up to you, and can be mixed using a standard hand mixer or tabletop mixer. The resulting cake mix is then poured into a cake form and baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The result is a medium-dense cake that is similar to real King Cake dough.
The beauty of this premade cake mix is that it also tells you how to make your own glazing sugar that can have substituted flavors instead of what’s recommended. You can also copy the recipe for making King Cake glaze mentioned earlier in this article.