05 March 2021 (updated)

All About King Cake: the Famous Mardi Gras Tradition

Ever wondered about that cake with the bright colors and a plastic baby hidden inside? It's a King Cake! Read all about this Mardi Gras tradition and find an easy recipe!

What Is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras is the Carnival celebration following the Christian feasts of the Epiphany or "Three Kings Day." It culminates on the day before "Ash Wednesday." It literally translates to "Fat Tuesday" in French, referring to the rich and fatty foods eaten before the ritual fasting and sacrifices typically made during the following Lenten season. Many countries celebrate Mardi Gras differently all around the world. However, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama in the United States are known for their vibrant Carnival season celebrations.

What Is a Mardi Gras King Cake?

At the beginning of each year, bakery cases begin to display the traditional "King Cake," a sweet pastry typically eaten on January 6th. This is "Epiphany" or Twelfth Night, which is the historical celebration of the three wise men (or kings) arriving in Bethlehem to deliver gifts to baby Jesus. Celebrators eat the cake all the way until Mardi Gras-- or "Shrove Tuesday."

Because of the tale of the "Kings" seeking baby Jesus, the baker typically hides a plastic baby Jesus figurine within the cake for someone to find. According to the Mardi Gras tradition, the one who finds the baby Jesus (or a fava bean in some traditions) gets to be "king" for a day. He or she also has to host next year's Mardi Gras celebration (or bring the cake next year).

Most Americans probably recognize the Louisiana-style King Cake, made of cake-y bread dough in a twisted ring-shape, topped with colored icing and sprinkles.

How Is a King Cake Made?

The baker takes cinnamon and vanilla-flavored sweet dough or brioche and twists it into a round. Bakers often adorn it with colored sugar dough before baking the sweet treat. Some can be filled with fruit or cream. Other countries fill the cakes with candied fruit, colored sugar, or icing. In Louisiana, King Cake bakers almost always decorate them with Mardi Gras colors: green, gold, and purple. Each color has a symbolic significance in Christianity. Green for faith, gold for power, and purple for justice. 

The classic French version of a king cake, the "Galette des Rois" is a puff pastry-style cake. It's typically filled with frangipane (a sweet cream made from almonds, sugar, butter, and eggs).

A French King Cake, a Spanish King Cake

What's the Easiest Mardi Gras King Cake Recipe?

Sadly, you won't find Betty Crocker's King Cake recipe in a box where you simply add water, eggs. If you did, I wouldn't trust it. A King Cake takes paying attention to the dough's consistency, gradually adding ingredients, and kneading. One way you can simplify your recipe, though, is to find a recipe using rapid rise yeast. You could also forgo the traditional braiding and simply roll the dough.

Before you break out the all-purpose flour, you should know that many people in New Orleans and Mobile actually buy their cakes from local bakeries. We don't blame them, especially because making a King Cake is such a big task. Some things only the experts should tackle, am I right?

If you can't find one at a bakery and you worry about the survival rate of cakes sent through the mail, we've got you covered. This simple recipe with cream cheese icing will have you wondering why you would try it any other way! Those who are traditionalists can go ahead and stop reading now.

Easy King Cake

No need for all-purpose flour, rising, or kneading! This recipe is the simplest King Cake option out there!

5 from 13 votes


PREP TIME

3 mins

COOK TIME

25 mins

TOTAL TIME

28 mins





COURSE

Dessert

CUISINE

American

SERVINGS

16 people

CALORIES

170.0 kcal

INGREDIENTS

  • 2

    packages

    uncooked cinnamon rolls

    icing included-- I like to use Pillsbury cinnamon rolls with buttercream icing.

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Easy King Cake

    1. Preheat and Prep.

      preheat oven to 375 degrees F, prep a cookie sheet pan with parchment paper.

    2. Bake.

      Arrange the cinnamon rolls on their sides, forming a flower/ring. Press them down lightly. Bake according to package instructions, until no longer gooey. Turn out on a plate to cool.

    3. Mix.

      Mix the included icing with 2 oz of room temperature cream cheese.

    4. Decorate.

      Once the cake is cool, spread the icing on top and decorate with festive sprinkles (and don't forget to hide the baby figurine!).

NUTRITION

Calories:

170.0 kcal

Carbohydrates:

24.0 g

Fat:

9.0 g

Protein:

2.0 g

Saturated Fat:

3.0 g

Serving Amount:

47

Serving Unit:

g

Sodium:

230.0 mg

Sugar:

11.0 g

Let's Celebrate!

Mardi Gras is a lot of fun and can be a wonderful time to celebrate with friends. Whether you make a King Cake or wear fun masks and costumes, celebrate share your favorite Mardi Gras memories with the ones you love on FamilyApp!



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