A Homemade King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling gets glazed and adorned with purple, green, and yellow sanding sugar. It’s an easy, traditional and beautiful centerpiece for all your Mardi Gras celebrations!
I had the best time making this Mardi Gras King Cake. The kids and I made it together and had fun adding the colored sprinkles. They were super excited to see who would get the baby.
I sent Will to school with the piece with the baby the next day and that was the first thing that he told me when I went to pick him up.
I am making a few more this week to celebrate Fat Tuesday at our school. It should be so much fun to do with the class. This brioche-style dough is beautiful to work with and is soft and tender. Amazing.
What Is Traditional King Cake?
A little history about King Cake.
King Cake is a traditional cake made to honor the three kings that visited Baby Jesus on the Epiphany.
King Cake is eaten from the 12th Day of Christmas until Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday” in French, also known as Shrove Tuesday and Pancake Day in England or Martedi Grasso and Carnevale in Italy), the day before Ash Wednesday.
Why Do They Put A Baby In King Cake?
The baby (or “bean’) represents the Baby Jesus. The baby can be a plastic baby, a pecan half, or an uncooked dried bean.
The most fun part of eating a King Cake is finding the baby that is baked inside. The person that gets the slice with the baby is said to have good luck for the year and also gets to host the next King Cake party.
What Do You Put In A King Cake?
An authentic king cake is a rich pastry that is similar to brioche dough. Typically, this dough is filled with various fillings, such as chocolate, cinnamon, and cream cheese.
Plus, it’s always decorated with purple, green, and yellow/gold sugar sprinkles or glaze. These three colors (the colors of Mardi Gras) have a deeper meaning. The purple sugar represents justice, the green represents faith, and the yellow represents power.
This recipe yields one very large filled King Cake. You will need three sets of ingredients – the homemade dough, the filling, and the icing.
For the dough, gather together warm water, active dry yeast, sugar, flour, salt, freshly ground nutmeg, warm milk, melted butter, egg yolks, lemon zest, and the King Cake baby!
Warm Water + Milk: It is important for the liquids, in this case, water and milk, to be warm for the yeast to properly activate. The ideal temperature is 100 – 110 degrees F.
For the water, warm tap water will do.
For the milk, warm in a small pot over medium-low heat until it just begins to steam.
Use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature. If you don’t have one, simply use your finger. The liquids should feel slightly warm to the touch, or just a few degrees warmer than body temperature.
For the cream cheese filling, gather together cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar, flour, vanilla, and lemon juice.
For the finishing touch of the icing, gather together more confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and purple, green and yellow sanding sugar.
Purple, Green and Yellow Sanding Sugar: It’s best to use these three colors for authenticity. You can find sanding sugar at most grocery or craft stores, but it is also available online. If you can’t find sanding sugar, sprinkles are a great substitute!
Bonus Ingredient – Mason Jar: To get that classic round, donut shape, you will need a large mason jar to place in the center of the baking sheet when shaping the cake. Make sure to use oven mitts when you remove the hot mason jar after baking!
How To Make // The Steps
This authentic king cake made from scratch takes a bit of time and patience, but it’s well worth the effort! An iced and decorated king cake is a beautiful centerpiece for Mardi Gras!
- Combine the warm water with the yeast and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Mix it together and let sit for about 10 minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 4 cups of flour, sugar, salt, nutmeg, lemon zest, milk, melted butter, egg yolks, and yeast mixture.
- Using the dough hook, knead until the dough pulls away from the sides of the mixer. If the dough is very wet, you can add up to one more cup flour. Knead for 5 minutes.
- Turn the dough out into bowl that has been coated with cooking spray. Turn the dough in the cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
- Mix together the cream cheese, confectioners sugar, flour, vanilla, and lemon juice. Set aside.
- Roll the dough into a rectangle about 30 inches long. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly on the dough. Roll the dough into a cylinder.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put a mason jar in the middle and wrap the dough around the jar. Tuck the ends together to form a ring. Cover with a towel and let rise for another 45 minutes.
- Bake in the oven at 350-degrees for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Take the mason jar out and let cool.
- For the icing, whisk the confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla.
- Hello baby! Press the plastic baby into the cake. Please be smarter than me. Press it underneath the king cake, not on the top.
- Cover the King Cake with the icing and sprinkle the cake with the sanding sugars, alternating the colors.
What Makes This Traditional King Cake Recipe So Good?
- Homemade brioche dough makes all the difference and will always taste better than store-bought cinnamon rolls.
- The cream cheese filling is offers a delicate sweet cream flavor.
- Purple, green, and yellow sugars celebrate tradition. It also creates a fun and festive Mardi Gras centerpiece!
I love to serve this king cake on Fat Tuesday! It’s indulgent, sweet, and interactive. My favorite part is seeing who gets the baby slice!
My kids like it as a breakfast treat or afternoon snack they enjoy with their classmates, especially after I’ve made a few extra cakes to bring to school.
In my opinion, it goes particularly well with a hot cup of coffee, too!
More Homemade Pastry Recipes //
- Crackle Top Cream Puffs
- Swedish Cardamom Buns
- The Best Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
- Braided Cardamom Bread
- Cranberry Walnut Blue Cheese Pinwheels
- Orange Sunshine Coffee Cake
- Cloverleaf Rolls
- Almond Breakfast Rolls
Originally published in March 2011, updated April 2020 with updated images and updated recipe card.