This is an edited post from the archives.

In a few days, we’ll be celebrating Mardi Gras again! Every year it feels like time is speeding up, and that makes me more desperate than ever to slow time down so I can make sure I’m enjoying every minute.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in New Orleans, the de facto center of Mardi Gras in North America. And it’s not a coincidence that the third book in my Amazon bestselling Deadly Force series, IN SEARCH OF TRUTH, takes place partially in New Orleans, including a sexy scene in a romantic hidden-away restaurant, a hunt through the French Quarter, and a chase through Lafayette Cemetery #1. But besides crazy partying down in New Orleans, what is Mardi Gras? In French, Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday.” Technically, Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the day before the Christian season of Lent begins. Mardi Gras Day always falls 46 days before Easter which means it can occur on any Tuesday from February 3rd to March 9th. Mardi Gras Day is also a transition day, dividing Church time between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of the Easter season. And this year, Mardi Gras is Tuesday, February 21.

Image of a King cake with green, gold, and purple sprinkles.

I know today is Sunday, but the King Cake recipe below takes time to rise and bake and I wanted to give you enough time to make it! 

To add to the confusion, Mardi Gras isn’t just a day. It’s a season that begins on January 6th, also known as Twelfth Night since it’s the twelfth night after Christmas. January 6th is also the Epiphany, the night that Jesus showed himself to the three wise men. While many people eat King Cake only on Mardi Gras Day, others start eating King Cake on January 6th, to celebrate the Epiphany, and eat it through the entire season.

Rumors say that the King Cake tradition appeared in New Orleans, a traditionally Catholic city, in 1870. It’s an oval-shaped cake that tastes more like a French pastry filled with cinnamon and pecans. Some people add in dried fruit like raisins or currants, and the oval shape represents the unity of faiths. The cake is decorated with a white frosting and three different colors of sprinkles. These three colors are known as the Royal Colors: Purple signifies Justice. Green signifies Faith. Gold signifies Power.

These colors represent the colors in a royal jeweled crown honoring the Three Wise Men who came to the Christ Child on Epiphany. To symbolize this event, a small plastic baby (or a piece of orange or a walnut) is baked into the King Cake. Although you want to make sure it’s not so small it could be swallowed or too large to break teeth. When the King Cake is served, everyone looks to see if they received the baby. The one who does is named “King” for a day. That King is then required to host next year’s party and provide the King Cake.

Whether you eat your King Cake all winter long, or just on Mardi Gras Day, you need to prepare ahead of time if you want to make your own. As a yeast bread, you need time to proof the yeast and let the dough rise–multiple times. Even if you don’t celebrate these holidays, it’s worth the time and effort to make this French delicacy. And when you serve it with your favorite hot coffee, you can laissez les bon temps rouler!

King Cake

This cake looks hard to make, but as long as your yeast works properly it's really not too difficult to make. Most of the 4 1/2 hours is spent waiting for the dough to rise. If it happens to be really cold in the house when you're making this, (because it's the middle of winter) turn the oven on low while you make the dough. When it comes time to let the dough rise the first time, turn off the oven and place the baking sheets in the warm oven. And if you don't want to add a plastic baby, you can use a small walnut or a piece of orange or even a quarter that's been well washed. Serve it with coffee and you'll never eat stale bagels again!

Course Bread, Breakfast
Servings 12
Calories 380 kcal

Ingredients

Pastry

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup butter room temperature
  • 2 .25 ounce packages active dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup warm water 110 degrees F
  • 1/2 cup white sugar separate out 1 Tablespoon to proof yeast
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Filling

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup pecans chopped
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

Frosting

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1-2 Tablespoons cold water
  • green sprinkles
  • purple sprinkles
  • yellow sprinkles
  • 2 plastic babies for good luck!

Instructions

  1. On low heat in a small saucepan, scald the milk.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in the butter.
  3. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.
  4. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water. Add 1 Tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, 8-10 minutes. If yeast mixture doesn’t bubble and look creamy, toss it and start again.
  5. When yeast mixture is bubbling, gently whisk in the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg.
  6. With an electric mixer, slowly beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time.
  7. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
  8. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
  9. Lightly oil a large, room temperature bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil.
  10. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
  11. After 2 hours, punch the dough down and divide in half.
  12. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

FILLING

  1. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, and flour.
  2. Pour the melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix with a fork until crumbly.
  3. On a lightly-floured surface, roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10×16 inches).
  4. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough rectangles. Beginning with the wide side, roll up each half tightly.
  5. Transfer the dough rolls to the two baking sheets.
  6. Bring the ends of each roll together to form oval shaped rings.
  7. With a sharp knife, make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals.
  8. Let the dough ovals rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  10. Push the plastic babies into the cakes and back for 30 minutes.

FROSTING

  1. While baking, blend confectioners’ sugar and the water in a small bowl.
  2. Once the cakes come out of the oven, and while they’re still warm, drizzle the frosting over top of the cakes. Decorate with the green, purple, and yellow sprinkles.

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