King Cake
Prep time
Cook time
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King Cake is also known as Three Kings Cake, Epiphany Cake or Twelfth Night Cake. The season for King Cake begins on January 6th and extends through Tuesday, also known as “Fat Tuesday,” the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. This period is also known as the Carnival season, with Fat Tuesday being Mardi Gras, a popular tradition in New Orleans, Louisiana. The cake is shaped in a round or ring shape, thought to represent the circular route taken by the biblical Three Kings in their search for the Baby Jesus. Traditionally a small token such as a coin, bean, or baby figure, is baked into the cake, and the person receiving the slice with the token is named king or queen of the day.

King cake is normally made with a sweet yeast dough flavored with cinnamon, and may have a filling of cheese, fruit, or nuts. This recipe includes a sweet pecan filling, vanilla-bourbon flavored icing, and sprinkled with sanding sugars in the traditional colors of Mardi Gras; purple representing justice, green representing faith, and gold representing power.
Recipe type: Dessert | Yeast Bread
  • ½ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
  • ½ cup warm milk (110 to 115 degrees) (preferably whole milk)
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4½ to 5 cups all-purpose flour
Pecan Filling:
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped small
Vanilla Bourbon Icing:
  • 1½ cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons milk, plus additional if needed (preferably whole milk)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons purple sanding sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons green sanding sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons yellow or gold sanding sugar
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine warm water, warm milk and yeast; stir and let sit until yeast is dissolved, about 10 minutes. Add sugar, eggs, melted butter, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon; beat until mixture is smooth. Add 2 cups flour; stir until well mixed. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.
  2. Turn dough onto a lightly floured pastry mat or pastry board; knead dough until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes, adding additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time if dough is too sticky.
  3. Place dough in a well greased bowl; turn dough over once to grease the top. Cover bowl with a small kitchen towel and let dough rise is a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.
  4. Prepare one large baking pan with sides; lightly grease the pan with shortening.
  5. Punch dough down then turn onto a lightly floured pastry mat or pastry board; knead dough briefly, 4 to 5 times. Roll the dough into a large rectangle about 30 inches by 15 inches.
Pecan Filling:
  1. In a small bowl, stir together melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and pecans. Sprinkle evenly over rolled out dough to within ½ inch of the edges.
  2. Roll-up dough jelly-roll style, starting with a long side. Shape into a ring; pinch the ends to fasten together.
  3. Cover and let ring rise is a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. Bake: Bake ring 60 minutes, or until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove rolls from oven. Place pan on a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Tip: During baking, if crust is getting too brown, loosely place a piece of foil over the top to prevent the crust from over-browning. Tip: Use an instant read thermometer to test your bread for doneness. The temperature should be between 200 and 210 degrees.
Vanilla Bourbon Icing:
  1. In a small bowl, combine confectioner’s sugar, butter, corn syrup, vanilla, bourbon, and enough milk to make a good spreading consistency. Spread icing onto still warm rolls, or pipe icing stripes with a pastry bag and decorating tip.
  1. While icing is still soft, sprinkle alternating colors of purple, green, and yellow with the sanding sugars.
Source: Castella, Drystina, A World of Cake, Storey Publishing, MA, 2010
Recipe Notes
Pan: One Large Baking Sheet Pan Prep: Greased Oven Temp: 350° Yield: One Ring Storage: Tightly Wrapped, Room Temperature

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