Traditional King Cake

I feel I’m failing my dear Doristas by not posting today’s French Friday’s recipe, quatre-quarts.  I still have in my freezer bubble top brioche rolls, a piece of Mama’s cinnamon cake, biscuits made from the Baking book recipe, three boxes of Girl Scout cookies and up until very recently, a whole king cake.  It’s just too much starchy, floury goodness already at my fingertips to even consider baking another cake for a two-person household.

One of the items in my to-bake-again list for 2012 was king cake.  The king cake tradition can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when a ring-shaped cake was part of the Epiphany celebrations.  The rosca de reyes and the galette de roes are the predecessors of the custom in the Southern US, where king cakes are consumed from the Twelfth Night all the way until Mardi Gras.  The cake is decorated in sugars tinted with the traditional Carnival colors: gold (representing power), green (faith), and purple (justice).  A miniature baby doll or pecan half is hidden in the cake, and the person who gets the lucky piece that has it has to host the next Mardi Gras party or bring the next cake to the activity.  I bought my share of king cakes at the supermarket during my college years – regardless of I found the baby or not.

Epiphany King Cake

For our Epiphany celebration, I baked my second king cake.  The first one I made was using John Besh’s brioche-based recipe.  It was delicious, but I wanted to try something easier and maybe not as rich.  Southern Living’s recipe caught my eye because unlike Besh’s version, the cinnamon filling is rolled like most of the king cakes I enjoyed during my New Orleans years.  For the Epiphany party, I made SL’s suggested creamy glaze as written.  My Mardi Gras cake’s glaze was a little thinner and flavored with orange zest.  Orange and cinnamon are one of my favorite combinations.

Traditional King Cake
Adapted from Southern Living
Yield: 1 cake

The King Cake

  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Over medium low heat, cook these ingredients together until the butter melts and everything is incorporated.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool until lukewarm (approximately 110˚F)

  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Stir together the yeast, sugar, and water.  Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand for at least five minutes, until the mixture begins to bubble.

In a stand mixture (paddle attachment), beat together the warm sour cream mixture, the developing yeast, egg, and one cup of flour until smooth. Switch to the dough hook, reduce the speed to low, and slowly add the remaining flour until a soft dough forms.  Turn the speed back to medium for five minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.  If you’d rather knead the dough by hand, do so on a lightly floured surface for about ten minutes or until smooth and elastic.  Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover it with a towel, and let rise in a warm/draft free place until it doubles in size.

  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Deflate the dough and roll it into a large rectangle, about 22″ by 12″.   Spread the butter evenly on top, leaving a 1 inch border.  Mix in a small bowl the cinnamon and sugar, and sprinkle it evenly over the butter.  Roll the cake from the long side, pinching together the edges.  Transfer the cake to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or  a silicon mat.  Allow it to rise for an extra half-hour, until doubled in bulk.

Bake the cake at 375˚F for 13-15 minutes or until golden.  Cool it slightly on top of a wire rack until ready to glaze.

The Glaze

  • Zest of 1/2 orange
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • Milk

Melt together in the microwave oven the butter with the orange zest in a large measuring cup, for about twenty five seconds.  Stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla and combine well.  Slowly add milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the desired texture.  Pour the glaze over the still warm cake.

The Lagniappe – Colored Sugars!

  • 1/4 cup regular granulated sugar or 3 tablespoons extra-fine/caster sugar
  • Food coloring
If using regular granulated sugar, whirl it in the food processor until it is fine in texture.  Separate it into even amounts over separate containers with lids.  For the single colors, add three drops of food coloring.  For purple, add three drops red and two blue.  Cap the containers, and shake until the sugar is evenly colored.  Sprinkle over the glazed cake in sections.


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Adriana is a financial analyst by day, avid home cook in the evenings, and food blogger and runner in the strange hours between those two. When not in the kitchen concocting meals and stories to pass around, she is out looking for the next great bite (or the ingredients to make it at home), checking what's new at the market, or planning a trip around great food and wine.

23 Responses to “Traditional King Cake”

  1. January 20, 2012 at 8:18 am #

    Your King Cake looks wonderful…I bake one every year! I use the Southern Living recipe. It makes a delicious cake. I feel your pain with baking another sweet…I have a freezer full of baked goods…I just sent a box of cookies to my son! Have a wonderful weekend…enjoy the sunshine…we’re getting snow!

    • January 20, 2012 at 8:54 am #

      Bundle up, Kathy! I really loved the Southern Living recipe, especially the tang of the sour cream against the sweeter glaze. I didn’t notice when I made the cakes on Epiphany day that the recipe was for two rings instead of one! Thankfully it froze and thawed really well.

  2. January 20, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Adriana – those are beautiful. I don’t think anyone looking at these will be disappointed 🙂

    Enjoy that sunshine – like Kahty, we are getting snow and sub-zero temperatures. At least it makes for great baking weather…

  3. January 20, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    The little pick on your cake is so cute! I love the way they’re both decorated- so much fun. The Southern Living recipe with the sour cream sounds delicious. The Quatre-Quarts cake was good but you can always try it later when you’ve worked through your stash of cakes!

    • January 20, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      I got those for my Mardi Gras/Super Bowl 2010 shinding which I wanted desperately to reprise this year. Strangely enough, I’m finding myself rooting for your team, Patty! I want them to prove that defeating the Saints was no fluke and they are really a team to watch out for.

  4. January 20, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Ohh, this looks amazing! I didn’t know about this tradition, but grew up with the French galette des rois. This looks delicious, and I love the color symbolism, too.

    • January 20, 2012 at 10:54 am #

      Apparently this type of cake was also popular in the South of France, and those settlers (along with the Spanish, who also made it to Louisiana) brought the tradition. The French galette des rois looks amazing. I’ll have to try that one soon. Have a great weekend!

  5. January 20, 2012 at 11:55 am #

    I just pulled our some recipes to make this amazing cake…yours looks wonderful. I also have a 2 person household, except……I have lots of family/friends who appear here every day to eat. People walk through the front door and yell, “What’s to eat?” Makes it extra fun when I have one of these recipes to bake because I know it will get eaten. If they did not come around, I’d miss lots of these recipe experiences. Anyway, I really like your post…got me excited to bake this cake.

  6. January 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    What a great looking cake!

  7. January 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    I’ve seen a lot of King Cakes, but I’ve never known what they actually are (besides cake). At last, I have a recipe to see the inner-workings! It looks so good. I can see why it’s so popular.

  8. January 20, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    When I was dating my husband his family made these each year and the person who got the baby had to host the next Christmas Eve. Somehow, it stopped over the years, but I remember how much fun it was and the anticipation of who was going to get ‘the’ slice. Your king’s cake is so beautiful and colorful!

  9. January 20, 2012 at 10:18 pm #

    What a fun looking cake! I understand about all the baked goods and not enough people to eat them, luckily I work with mostly guys and they will eat anything! I leave enough for my husband and son and then just take the rest to work. My coworkers have started complaining about gaining weight, but they haven’t stopped eating the stuff yet!

  10. January 21, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Me and yeast are not friends…but this looks like something I could try…hmmm…

    • January 21, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

      In my experience, if you add as little as 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to the lukewarm liquid you will use to develop the yeast, it will be more likely to bubble.

  11. January 21, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Your cake looks so festive and tasty! I’ve never made a king cake before, but I think that I had one when I was studying in france. Do they also eat them on Christmas Eve? The one I had was shaped the same as yours and also had a little figurine in it which was meant to bring luck to whoever found it. I think my french family bought it instead of making it, but it was good all the same.

    • January 21, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

      I don’t think so – I’m almost sure king cake season in Louisiana runs from Epiphany to Fat Tuesday.

  12. January 22, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    You really caught our eyes with this one – we are getting ready for our annual Mardi Gras party and this would be way more economical than having one sent from New Orleans!

    • January 22, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

      That’s why I actually started making them! If shipping within the contiguous 48 is expensive, imagine to Puerto Rico.

  13. January 22, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Your cake is beautiful, and it sounds delicious. Your freezer sounds a lot like mine, I also have way too many baked goods for a two person household 🙂

  14. January 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    Adriana, your King Cake looks great. I made mini-cakes this year (even blogged about them), and am now making more for a birthday party in a couple of weeks. It’s such a fun tradition. Mine are filled with the cream cheese, but for the party, I’m going to do cinnamon too – it looks terrific!!!

  15. January 25, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Hi Adriana, My daughter graduated from Tulane Law School so we have a love affair going on with New Orleans also. We’ve celebrated Mardi Gras with many a King Cake but none looked as yummy as yours – in every version. Thank you fir sharing. Your being such a great FFWD member and blogger caused and inspired me to include your link in my Post today about Dorie and her online cooking groups . I have so enjoyed reading your Blog and included it in my Link List at the end of my Post. Looking forward to more in the year ahead. Mary

  16. February 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Oh my goodness, your King Cakes are gorgeous! I’ve never had one but have heard of them for years and always wanted to make my own. Maybe this year will be the year. Thank you for sharing, they look so fun!

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