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Easy King Cake

Easy King Cake

King Cake is a traditional pastry served for the celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It is made with a rich bread dough that is filled with a cinnamon mixture and braided into a ring. It is typically frosted, and adorned with purple, yellow and green (purple to represent justice, green to represent faith, and gold to represent power). These days, there are a lot of variations out there and you can find King Cakes that are also filled with cream cheese, praline and jam – a lot like danishes. Traditional king cake is not all that simple to make, just because it involves a lot of active time working with the dough. I wanted to streamline the process a little and made a non-traditional King Cake that involves no kneading of the dough.

My king cake starts off as a challah-like bread, enriched with vegetable oil and eggs. I added some sugar into my bread to sweeten it, and a bit of vanilla to give it a little more flavor. This bread only has one rise, so once it is mixed up, it can go directly into the baking pan. Again, I simplified the step of producing a ring-shaped cake by using a bundt pan. The dough rises right in the pan and goes into the oven without ever having to get flour on your hands. The cream cheese filling is one that I modified from a filling Cookie Madness used to make a cream cheese filling for a bundt cake. The filling is mixed up and spread into the unrisen dough. The cake rises and bakes right around it!

The bread/cake of the king cake is soft and sweet, with a tight crumb that looks almost like that of a pound cake, although it is much more like a sweet bread than your typical cake. The flavor of the filling is wonderful; the white chocolate and cream cheese combine to taste just like a little bit of cheesecake. It matches really well with the bread and keeps everything moist. The colored icing on top of the cake is an ultra-simple mixture of confectioners’ sugar, water and food coloring. It does add a bit of sweetness to the outside of the bread, which is nice, and gives the cake its unmistakable King Cake look.

Mardi Gras starts on Fat Tuesday (tomorrow!) and, if you’ve never had or baked a King Cake before, there is no time like the present to start. Traditionalists will note that I left the baby out of my king cake. Feel free to stick it in when you’re done baking.

King Cake, cream cheese filling

Easy King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (.25-oz)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk (any kind), warm (100-110F)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

 1/2 cup white chocolate, melted
8-oz cream cheese, room temperature
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Grease a 10-inch bundt pan well with butter or vegetable oil/cooking spray.
In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine 3/4 cup flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Stir to combine.
Add in warm milk and oil, then beat mixture for 2 minutes at medium speed. The paddle attachment works the best for this recipe. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, waiting until each has been fully incorporated to add the next. Add in the vanilla extract and an additional 1/2 cup of flour and beat for 2 more minutes at medium-high speed.
Stir in all remaining flour (creating a thick batter, rather than a standard dough), then cover the bowl and let rest for 10 minutes while you make the filling.

For the filling, beat together melted white chocolate, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl at high speed until smooth and fluffy.

Pour about half of the dough into the prepared bundt pan. Using a spoon, add dollops of cream cheese filling to the pan to create a ring in the middle of the bread dough. Pour remaining batter into pan, trying to cover most or all of the cream cheese filling. The batter will not be very high in the pan at this point. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F.
Bake king cake for 30 minutes. Bread will be golden and should spring back when lightly touched.
Turn cake out of pan onto a wire cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

Serves 12

King Cake Icing
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3-4 tbsp water
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
food coloring

Place 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar into each of three small bowls. Add a tablespoon of water and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract to each, along with food coloring to dye each bowl one color: purple, yellow and green. Stir well, until icing is smooth and thick, but not stiff.
Pour icing over cooled King Cake.

King Cake slice

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  • Elyse
    February 23, 2009

    I never thought I’d see “easy” and “King’s Cake” in the same title, but lo and behold, you’ve done it! And I cannot wait to try this recipe. I love celebrating Mardi Gras with a King’s Cake, but I’ve always just ended up buying one from a local bakery. Not this year! I’m so excited to try this recipe!

  • Alisa - Frugal Foodie
    February 23, 2009

    That cake looks so fun, as if it is painted!

  • Sugar Duchess
    February 23, 2009

    What a gorgeous, colorful cake! Just like a jester’s cap. Very appropriate for Mardi Gras 🙂

  • junko
    February 23, 2009

    This looks delicious! I can’t wait to try it 🙂

  • raidar
    February 23, 2009

    I’ve always been intrigued by the king cake and this one seems so much more approachable. Thanks, it looks wonderful!

  • dawn
    February 24, 2009

    I’ve always thought of these cakes as works of art; the colors are what makes it. I love the middle best.

  • Jennifer
    February 24, 2009

    Beautiful!!!! I love how you used colored icing vs. sprinkles! I made a King Cake last week using a praline filling and sprinkles.

  • finsmom
    February 24, 2009

    This is so pretty! I bet it would be just perfect for a playdate! Thanks for sharing!

  • Paula Maack
    February 24, 2009

    What ao gorgeous King Cake!!!

    I skipped the King Cake this year, since I already have too many baked goods lying around right now, but I was tempted. Yours is far more lovely than mine would have been. Great color on the icing!!!

    I blogged about Shrimp and Grits for Mardi Gras, should you be interested.

    Happy Mardi Gras! Laissez les bons temps rouler!


    ~ Paula

  • A Louisiana Native
    February 24, 2009

    I’m sure this cake tastes fine, but the only thing it has in common with a king cake is the coloring, and even that is traditionally done with white icing and colored sugar, not colored icing. King cake is similar to a cinnamon roll or pastry; this imposter looks more like a pound cake stuffed with cream cheese. There isn’t even any cinnamon in the recipe! There are few enough people who even know what a king cake is, much less have had an authentic one – we really don’t need usually-trustworthy bakers spreading misinformation via shortcut recipes.

  • Nicole
    February 24, 2009

    A Louisiana Native – Thanks for the comments, and I’m sorry to hear that you feel that this “shortcut recipe” is degrading the concept of a king cake. I actually have a recipe for a traditional king cake – cinnamon and all – on my site already. There are a couple of links to it in the post above. I was hoping to make baking a king cake (or something similar) a little more accessible to the home baker. A more traditional king cake is a little intimidating, and perhaps a few more people will be inclined to tackle the real thing after starting out with this easy adaptation.

    Thanks again for the comments! I hope that this clears things up a little bit for you!

  • marguerite
    February 25, 2009

    That is gorgeous!!

  • Monica
    March 23, 2009

    Wow that is cool. A colorful frosting cake! 🙂

  • Bernie
    February 3, 2010

    Some of the posters are correct; this is not a traditional king cake, which is a pastry (with or without filling). However, it looks good, and certainly worth trying as a start for those not yet confident of their pastry skills.

    However, one line in the recipe posting must be corrected: Mardi Gras does NOT start on Fat Tuesday, it ENDS on Fat Tuesday. Note “Mardi Gras” is (roughly) “Tuesday Fat” in French; Mardi Gras, as a festival, starts two Fridays before Fat Tuesday (which we call “Mardi Gras Day” in New Orleans, to distinguish). Carnival, however, starts on Twelfth Night, the Epiphany, or January 6, the day the Kings arrived in Bethlehem. We make king cakes from Jan 6 through Mardi Gras day.

  • The bread/cake of the king cake is soft and sweet, with a tight crumb that looks almost like that of a pound cake, although it is much more like a sweet bread than your typical cake.

  • wendy white
    January 21, 2011

    hi, i’m also a new orleans native( purist). the cake looks absolutely decadent and delicious but i have to agree that it is a far cry from a real king cake which is usually a pastry- like consistency (and even earlier was more like a braided french brioche w/ colored sugar on top) i still commend your attempts to make it easy for those of us who live so far away to have something similar during the mardi gras season. it still looks very good!!!

  • Angela
    January 11, 2013

    I made this cake last week, and it was very good. The texture reminded me a little bit of cinnamon rolls combined with pound cake, and was close to a pastry-type dough. It tasted very similar to more traditional king cakes I’ve made before, but with FAR less work! I used a white icing and sprinkled sugars on top – easier and looks more traditional. Finally, I don’t dread making these week after week for months!

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