King Cake in New Orleans



The cosmopolitan city of New Orleans, Louisiana, is known for taking par new heights with its uproarious annual Mardi Gras celebrations. One tradition of Mardi Gras which was inherited from New Orleans’ Spanish and French history begins with the post-Christmas celebration of Twelfth Night, January 6th. Weekly events mark the King Cake season. It is far more than just an “over the top” colorful cake, but brings with it luck and obligations.

The origin of the King Cake is actually pre-Christian in the Roman festival of Saturnalia and the inclusion of a bean somewhere in a loaf. The person who found the bean in his/her portion became “the king of the feast”. Christians translated the “king” to the “Three Kings” who were said to have visited Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus Christ, the feast day celebrated as twelfth Night or Epiphany. In later years the bean was replaced with first a porcelain and later a plastic trinket, usually a baby symbolizing the Christ child. The person who finds the bean or figurine trinket is likewise crowned “King of the Feast” and in New Orleans is expected to buy the next King Cake or host the next King Cake party.

King Cakes have been documented in the Mississippi Delta from the 18th century. They are usually braided brioche dough bread that is deep-fried then frosted with colored sugar icing, green, gold and purple, the Mardi Gras colors. More elaborate cakes also contain a filling, usually of cream cheese, praline, spices or fruit. The cake is such a beloved part of New Orleans culture that bakers now make King Cakes to celebrate other holidays with appropriate colored frosting, including Christmas, Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween. You can now also get football theme King Cakes humoring hometown teams. For the traditional Krewe of Zulu parade in New Orleans the cake will be filled with chocolate and coconut, coconuts being the symbol of Krewe of Zulu. A krewe, or an organization that puts on a celebration, often choose their annual “King” with finding of the trinket in a king Cake.

King Cake Recipe


For the Brioche:

1 Envelope Active Dry Yeast
2 Tbsp Warm Water (115 degree F)
1 tsp Iodized Salt
2 Tbsp Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Milk
2 tsp Orange Zest, minced
2 Cups All Purpose Flour, sifted
1 tsp Cinnamon
2 Eggs, beaten
1 1/4 sticks cold unsalted Butter, cut into very small dice
1 Egg beaten and 2 Tbsp water, for the eggwash
1 plastic baby trinket

Dissolve the yeast in the workbowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, let stand until frothy.

Dissolve the salt, sugar, orange zest and milk in a small bowl. When dissolved combine the milk mixture with the yeast mixture. Mix the cinnamon with the flour.

With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, then gradually add the flour, until all is incorporated. Knead on low speed for 10 minutes, or until a smooth elastic dough is formed. A little more flour may be necessary. With the motor running, incorporate the butter into the dough, a little at a time but rather quickly so that it doesn’t heat up and melt.

Turn the dough into an oiled bowl, loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour in a warm spot.

When the dough has doubled in bulk punch it down, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Roll the dough out to a 6 x 18 inch rectangle. Spread the Pecan filling (recipe below) out in the middle of the rectangle along the whole length, leaving about 1 1/2 inch on each side. Place the baby trinket somewhere with the filling. Fold the length of the dough over the filling and roll up tightly, leaving the seam side down. Turn the roll into a circle, seam side down and put one end inside of the other to hide the seam, and seal the circle. Place the cake on a baking sheet and let rise, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Brush all over with the egg wash, then place the king cake into the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

When the cake cools, brush with some of the glaze (recipe below) thinned out with more cold water. This will help the sugars adhere. Decorate the cake with the colored sugars and drizzle some of the thicker glaze onto the cake.

Place on a large round serving plate and decorate with Mardi Gras beads, doubloons and whatever else that you like.
For the Pecan filling:

1 Cup Pecan halves, broken up slightly and roasted until fragrant
2/3 Cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ground Allspice
1 pinch of salt
4 Tbsp Steen’s Cane Syrup

Combine all of the ingredients together.

For the glaze

1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar
1 Tbsp Bourbon
Water (enough to make a paste that can be drizzled)

Combine the sugar and bourbon, whisk in enough water to make a glaze that can be drizzled.


Nan Hawthorne is a historical novelist whose work in progress is set on a Mississippi riverboat at the time of the American Civil War. Her website can be found here:

Nan’s give away to one lucky commenter is a bag of Mardi Gras goodies: namely –  Mardi Gras beads strings, Mardi Graas doubloons and two Mardi Gras masks.

The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this yet – write them down and I’ll ask you to email them in on Christmas Eve.)

2. In the film “A Wonderful Life” how do you know when an angel has received his wings?

21 Responses

  1. That sounds delicious! I’m very partial to anything with fruit on, so i love this time of year with stollen, mince pies and the like.

    • And I am fond of anything with cream cheese.. Jim tells me he plans to make me a King Cake for my birthday.. I’ll be 60 on Jan 3.

      British wedding cakes have fruit in them, right?


  2. Thank you, Nan, this looks delicious! I have fond memories of my recent trip to New Orleans, and can’t wait to try out this recipe!



    • Hi again Jess! I was in New Orleans when I was about 8 and I didn’t appreciate it at all!!! I have to get back, especially now that my novel in progress and a possible series of mysteries will take place there. We could rephrase Rochelle’s post to “Can someone who hasn’t been to New Orleans in 52 years write about it?”


  3. Oh my, the baby has fallen nekkid butt up in the hole of the cake there. 🙂 I find something about the colored sugar on bread kind of off-putting, but I had such a wonderful time in New Orleans in October, I’d certainly give it a whirl, and I’m sure I’d get past that quickly.

  4. First time I had King Cake was at a motel in San Francisco, of all places! LOL! I have to say, it was really tasty. It was a lot of fun to watch travelers from all over the world trying to figure out what it was and what it meant!

    • Belinda, it sounds like the King Cake isn’t as international as I had read, but then you probably didn’t meet anyone from Ancient Rome… alas.


  5. I have never made one before but printed out this recipe to give it a try. Looks delicious.

  6. I’ll have a bash at one of those for New Year’s. 🙂

    • Erin, since I discovered that King Cakes have become a year round thing, and I am especially pleased about green (white and orange) icing for St. Patrick’s Day, that sounds like a fine idea!


  7. Will make that to give as my ‘foody’ offering when I go to my sisters for Christmas. yummy.

  8. You know, I love New Orleans, I’ve gone there every year for three years now, and I’ve never had this cake.

    But now I can make it – thank you!

    • Nathan, you can also mail order them, if you are so inclined… I think the l ink is on the post, but if not, it’s something like .. they have Mardi Gras supplies too. After writing the disastrous Mardi Gras masquerade ball scene in my work in progress I may nto be able to look a mardi Gras in the face any more though.


  9. Ooh, Nan, you temptress. My husband is on a baking spree at the moment. I might have to print this out and leave it “accidentally” lying around 😉

    Some friends of mine visited New Orleans this year and I was horribly jealous. It’s on my list of places I desperately want to visit.

    Please exclude me from the draw. I’m participating in the calendar later in the month and don’t think it would be fair if I snaffled any of the goodies.

    Paige x

  10. Not sure I should participate in the draw, as I’m taking part in this event, but I had to say the cake looks fantastic!! Very interested to hear about its distant origins, too 🙂

    • See what I said to Paige about the participants being eligible for the prizes. I.e., don’t be silly.

      Thanks for your comment!!!


  11. Paige, don’t be silly. I think all the authors will nevertheless enter. You gave, you shall receive.

    Envy = you AND me… one reason I decided to switch from writing about the middle ages was so I can have a hope of visiting the places I write about, given I live in the upper left of the contiguous US.


  12. That sounds so delicious but looks so . . . Cthulhu. 🙂

    • Just have a thin little slice.. that way you can aboid the plastic baby inside too!

      “Cthulhu”? Is that Homoslavian?


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