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Recipe: Mardi Gras King Cake

King cakes, a tri-colored sweet, are a Carnival tradition, the history of which is documented in Matt Haines' "The Big Book of King Cake" (Susan Schadt Press).

This recipe is courtesy of the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (NOCHI).

Don't miss Kris Van Cleave's special report on the history of this delectable Mardi Gras dish on "CBS Sunday Morning" February 27!

A traditional King Cake, created by students at the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute. NOCHI

NOCHI's King Cake


Cinnamon Filling:

1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour 
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. honey
1/2 egg (reserve the other half for the dough)
¼ tsp. vanilla extract


2 ½ cups bread flour
¾ tsp. yeast, instant or rapid rise
3 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. sugar 
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butter
1 ½ eggs
½ tsp. honey
2/3 cup milk   

Icing and Cake Decorating:

2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Sugar and food coloring as desired
Small plastic baby (a key ingredient!)


Start by making the cinnamon filing.

1. Melt the butter.

2. Pour the melted butter into a bowl and mix with the brown sugar until well combined. 

3. Add the flour, cinnamon, and honey. Mix well.

4. Add the eggs and vanilla extract. Mix well.

5. Cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Next, it's time to make your king cake dough.

1. Place all dough ingredients in a large bowl. Make sure butter is soft.

2. Mix ingredients on low speed using a stand mixer for 4 minutes until well combined. If you don't have a mixer, that's also fine; you'll just need more elbow grease.

3. Next, mix ingredients on medium speed for approximately 6 minutes. To check if the dough is ready, tear off a small piece. You should be able to stretch it thin enough to see light coming through without the dough tearing.

4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean dishtowel and set aside for 30 minutes to begin proofing the dough.

5. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and roll into a rectangle with 1 inch thickness.

6. Move the dough to a tray or baking sheet and cover it with plastic wrap. Place it in the refrigerator overnight to continue proofing.

7. When you are ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit for 30 minutes.

8. Roll the dough into a rectangle (approximately 20 x 8 inches).

9. Spread the cinnamon filling on the rectangle and fold in half lengthwise. Your folded dough should be approximately 20 x 4 inches.

10. Cut the dough into 3 even strips lengthwise.

11. Stretch the strips to 24 inches each. Braid the 3 pieces, then shape into a circle or oval.

12. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the unbaked cake on it.

13. Cover and set aside in a warm place for approximately 1.5 hours, or until it's nearly double its size (for home bakers, a good trick is to place the unbaked cake on the middle rack of an oven that's off. Place a pan of hot water on the oven floor).

14. Bake at 325°F until golden brown or until the cake is at an internal temperature of 190°F. This will be approximately 12 to 15 minutes in a convection oven or approximately 20 minutes in a regular oven.


Finally, everyone's favorite part – decorating!

1. Combine powdered sugar, whole milk, and vanilla extract in a bowl. Mix until smooth and set side.

2. To make colored sugars, put sugar into three bowls — one for purple, another for green, and a third for gold. Start with a few drops of coloring, mixing until incorporated. Add more, a few drops at a time, until your sugar is the desired color.

3. Once the cake has cooled, lift the cake and insert the baby into the bottom for the future queen or king to find.

4. Drizzle the icing over the cake.

5. Sprinkle sugar on top, alternating among the three colors.

6. Eat and repeat. 

Susan Schadt Press

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