Homemade King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling

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!

slice of homemade Mardi Gras cake on white plate with plastic babies in white bowl

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.

slice of homemade Mardi Gras cake on white plate with plastic babies in white bowl and two gold forks

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.

close-up of glazed king cake with glaze and purple, green, yellow sanding sugar

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.

sliced king cake with slices on white plates, sanding sugar in bowls and pastry brush

Ingredients

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!

glazed, decorated and sliced Mardi Gras cake on white plate with gold forks and bead necklaces

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!

  1. Combine the warm water with the yeast and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Mix it together and let sit for about 10 minutes.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Mix together the cream cheese, confectioners sugar, flour, vanilla, and lemon juice. Set aside.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Bake in the oven at 350-degrees for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Take the mason jar out and let cool.
  9. For the icing, whisk the confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla.
  10. Hello baby! Press the plastic baby into the cake. Please be smarter than me. Press it underneath the king cake, not on the top.
  11. Cover the King Cake with the icing and sprinkle the cake with the sanding sugars, alternating the colors.
cream cheese filled king cake on white plate with glazed cake in background

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!

Serving Suggestions

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 //

Originally published in March 2011, updated April 2020 with updated images and updated recipe card.

If you make this recipe, I’d love to know how it goes! Be sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, too!

sliced king cake with slices on white plates, sanding sugar in bowls and pastry brush

Homemade King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling

Yield: serves 8
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 5 minutes

A Homemade King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling is glazed and adorned with traditional purple, green and yellow sanding sugar for any Mardi Gras celebration!

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 to 5 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
  • 5 egg yolks
  • King Cake Baby

For the cream cheese filling:

  • 1 (8-ounce) package room temperature cream cheese
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

For the icing:

  • 2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • purple, green, and yellow sanding sugar

Instructions

  1. Combine the warm water with the yeast and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Mix it together and let sit for about 10 minutes.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Mix together the cream cheese, confectioners sugar, flour, vanilla, and lemon juice. Set aside.
  6. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 30 inches long. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly on the dough.
  7. Roll the dough into a cylinder.
  8. 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.
  9. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Take the mason jar out and let cool.
  10. Make the icing by whisking the confectioners sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla.
  11. Hello baby! Press the plastic baby into the cake. Please be smarter than me. Press it underneath the king cake, not on the top.
  12. Cover the King Cake with the icing and sprinkle the cake with sugars alternating the colors.

Notes

If you can't find sanding sugar, purple, green, and yellow sprinkles will work, too!

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 24 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 527Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 52mgSodium: 231mgCarbohydrates: 102gFiber: 3gSugar: 20gProtein: 12g

All information and tools presented and written within this site are intended for informational purposes only.

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Oh hey there!

Well, hello there! I’m Bree Hester, the Boston-based blogger and food photographer here at Baked Bree. Here you can get lots of weeknight meal inspiration, eat more plant-based meals, and still indulge in a decadent sweet treat. Baked Bree is a place where you will find great recipes and inspiration for your next family adventure.

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This Post Has 55 Comments

  1. Emma @ Poires au Chocolat

    I didin’t know it was called Fat Tuesday! We call it Shrove Tuesday or pancake day.

    King cake looks delicious, I love filled breads.

    1. bakedbree

      We called it Fat Tuesday in the South, but it has a lot of names. I never heard of pancake day until last year.

  2. Leslie

    I had no idea the history behind King Cake. It does look very fun to make. Does it taste good??

    1. Wes (Baked Bree's husband)

      Leslie…I can give you first person testimonial. This was absolutely fantastic! The kids and I devoured it. It was great for dessert, but even better for breakfast!

      1. bakedbree

        thanks for the endorsement.

    2. bakedbree

      Yes, too good.

  3. The Blue-Eyed Bakers

    YUMMY. We love love love King Cake…and since we have to be good started Wednesday (er sort of) we totally plan on making it this year and going totally overboard on Tuesday! Delish!

    1. bakedbree

      I hope that you indulged to your heart’s content yesterday! I sure did.

  4. Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race

    My wife has challenged me to come up with a meal that is all Nawlins in color. So I have to make a vegetarian meal that has green, yellow and purple in it. Going to be fun.

    1. bakedbree

      Oh my! How did it go?

  5. Marissa

    I’m from New Orleans, but I live in Texas now. Everyone always asks me to make a King Cake around Mardi Gras time! I have been using a Southern Living recipe, but I may have to try yours this time! YUM! I sure miss this stuff. 🙂

    -Marissa

    1. bakedbree

      this recipe is amazing. I will make it year round.

  6. Jessica

    This is lovely! Thanks for sharing!

    1. bakedbree

      Thanks Jessica!

  7. Nina

    Bree, your king cake looks sensational! I use a cream cheese frosting also and love it!! Yours looks sooooo good! Love all your photos. Have a great weekend! xo

    1. bakedbree

      thank you Nina!

  8. Mama Kelly aka Jia

    Ive never had King Cake … but it looks just wonderful! I may have to give it a try.

    1. bakedbree

      it is so delicious. I ended up making 3 yesterday and the kid’s classes were amazed.

  9. Jenn@eatcakefordinner

    I have seen King Cake’s before, but this is the first time I have ever read about the History behind it. Very interesting. I have always wanted to try one and my boyfriend has always wanted me to make one. I might actually attempt it now, thanks to your step-by-step photos. Yours looks absolutely perfect. What happens if you put the baby in it before you baked it? Would the plastic melt?

    1. bakedbree

      I hope that you made one. I don’t trust baking the baby inside. BPA’s and hot plastic.

  10. Emma

    This looks and sounds fantastic! Does the cream cheese stay in the middle as a filling, or does it sort of melt into the dough? Stunning pics!

    1. bakedbree

      It sort of melts, but I made it with a cinnamon sugar filling and it layered better.

  11. Corey

    Hi~ I was just wondering if maybe you could post some pictures of what the inside looked like after it was all done, like a slice of the cake. Please and thank you~

    1. bakedbree

      Sure thing. I will.

  12. MNBaker

    I’ve put the baby in before baking before, and I haven’t had issues with it melting. Plus, this makes it more of a surprise for everyone when it’s time to cut the cake.

    1. bakedbree

      I am weird about heating plastic too, BPAs and all. I am glad to know that it didn’t melt though.

  13. Robin Christeson

    Thanks for posting this! I went a little nuts and tried 5 different king cake recipes this year. (I’m from Louisiana and became home sick during Mardi Gras, LOL) I found that if you pinch it closed and then flip the dough vs. roll up the dough jelly roll style, the cream cheese filling will not melt into the cake when it’s baked. I liked the Southern Living recipe the best of the 5 I tried. I can’t wait to try your recipe!! It looks yummy.

    1. bakedbree

      wow, you really did go a little King Cake nutty! I like that, something that I would do. Thanks for the tip, and I will try the Southern Living recipe next year.

  14. anonamous

    can anyone tell me who eats the king cake. is it like each household has a different king cake or is it like every one in town eats the same cake!?!?!?

    1. bakedbree

      every one has one.

  15. Yvette

    I’m definitely trying the King Cake recipe! And want you to know that I enjoy your website so much… Keep up the great work!

    Yvette

    1. bakedbree

      thank you so much Yvette! I love making King Cake.

  16. Kristen Dixie

    Interesting. This is just like the Pan de Rosca that is made here in Mexico for Dia de Los Reyes ( jan. 9). Whoever gets the baby Jesus has to make tamales for all in attendance on Feb.2, Candeleria (Candle Mass) .

    1. bakedbree

      I would love that, tamales are one of my favorite things ever.

  17. ellie

    hi! our monthly cooking club is having a mardi gras theme on saturday – a little late! anyway i am making your king cake but i dont have a stand mixer – can i use a food processor to make the dough? any tips? i have never really made a dough! thank you!

    1. bakedbree

      Yes you can, or you can do it by hand.

  18. Margaret

    Will this recipe fit in a bundt pan? Or do you recommend not going that route? Thanks!

    1. bakedbree

      It will be too large for a bundt pan. And I wouldn’t make it that way. It is supposed to be a free form cake.

  19. Shady

    Is this the same dough that yo use on the Boudin King Cakes?

    1. bakedbree

      I’m not sure what a Boudin king cake is?

      1. Sean

        A boudin king cake is more of a french bread deaux (dough), and in lieu of the cream cheese and cinnamon filling, Cajun Boudin is used as the “filling” …boudin is a link sausage made with ground pork, rice, cayenne pepper, garlic, onion and celery seasonings… http://www.boudinlink.com for more info on boudin…but this new Cajun rendition of the king cake is glazed or drizzled with authentic sugar cane syrup (brand name Steen’s cane syrup, Abbeville, LA) and cinnamon-sugared ground roasted pecans…just a little sweet with the salty bread dough and boudin…that has a little heat… It would be great served with a cup of Louisiana-style cafe’-au-lait.

  20. Sean

    In Houma, LA there is a Bakery that uses a handed-down recipe from an older bakery from the 1940’s -1960’s era. One of the bakers at the old bakery went to France to learn how to make authentic French bread and came back with this unique “Chick-de-femme” (chik-dey-fom) recipe for king cakes which is similar to “Brioche”…you can us a googled brioche recipe and commonly, on the bayou, one of the most popular king cakes is also “iced” with drizzles of caramel and cinnamon-sugared ground pecans… or pecan praline glaze.

  21. Judy

    This was my first time making a King cake. I grew up celebrating Three Kings day and my my mom always made the cake. It looked like it cane out well besides the ends separating so it was more of a big crescent. However when we cut into it it was really doughy on the inside but the outside was perfect. Not sure what happened. I followed the recep to a T even used the Mason jar trick you suggested. Maybe it was my oven? I don’t know, it was still fun to make and we enjoyed searching for the baby Jesus (my husband found it) but unfortunately, we wound up throwing away the cake.

    I also found that the icing recipe was way too lemony for me so I modified it by using a little lemon juice, milk and butter to make more of a buttercream frosting and that turned out well!

    1. Bree Hester

      It sounds like you didn’t bake it enough. Sorry that it didn’t work out the way that you wanted it to.

  22. Leslie

    I made this today and it was fabulous! I followed your recipe exactly, but I did add a cinnamon/pecan mixture layered on top of the cream cheese layer. This is the first King Cake I’ve ever had “turn out”. Thanks so much!

    1. Bree Hester

      That sounds delicious! I made it again this weekend and this really is a great recipe. Glad that you liked it!

  23. Ruth

    Ok I never have success with making anything with yeast, is there a store bought type of bread dough I can use?

    1. Bree Hester

      You can use frozen bread dough, but it won’t be as good. This is a sweeter dough than they are.

  24. Debra D

    Am thinking of adding some shredded coconut in the filling and frosting. Thoughts?

    1. Bree Hester

      I think that if you like coconut then it’s a great idea.

  25. Danny Thompson

    Bree, I was wondering if there is any way that I could incorporate an Amish Friendship bread starter into this recipe? I have two starters that are ready to make bread out of, and it has a yeast base. (You know, a typical friendship bread by the Amish). Any thoughts? Thanks in advance and if not then any ideas on making the friendship bread would be appreciated. I am looking for something different. I think I am going to try your recipe anyways!

    1. Bree Hester

      I have never worked with that starter before, but I’m guessing that you could use it to make this bread. I like to just try it and see how it turns out. Worst case scenario, you have a weirdly delicious bread to snack on. I would add a pinch of instant yeast for insurance. That is how I make my sourdough bread using my starter. Let me know how it goes.

  26. Linda

    Making right now and the dough has not doubled in 1 1/2 hours? Advise as I am still letting it rise.

    1. Bree Hester

      It could be a lot of things – Your yeast is dead. Your water was too hot, too cold, your room is cold, maybe it just needed more time? Bread timing is not exact.

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