King cake -- the colorful, ring-shaped cake with a surprise inside -- is the essential Mardi Gras dessert. We'll share favorite recipes for king cake with plenty of tips to help you make one for your Fat Tuesday festivities. And, we'll drop a little knowledge about this traditional pastry so you'll know what to say when people ask you what's the deal with king cake?
Allrecipes home cook, Jo, sums it up beautifully: "The King Cake is a New Orleans tradition that involves a pastry, a small plastic baby, and a party. The King Cake is baked with a small plastic baby hidden inside. The person who gets the slice with baby in it has to host the next party."
5 Top-Rated King Cake Recipes
Types of king cakes vary from baker to baker, and can be coffee cake-style pastries or sweet bread-like desserts. Here are five favorites.
1. King Cake
A traditional sweet bread with a cream-cheese filling. All hail the king cake's reign of yum!
Here's a non-traditional way to make a very traditional cake. Use your bread machine to mix and knead the dough. Fill the dough with a buttery cinnamon-pecan filling.
"Not too sweet, not too bready, with a rich, tender crumb and the traditional lemon/nutmeg flavors of a genuine NOLA king cake. Great with coffee. Best eaten same day but pretty darn good the day after. Enjoy, y'all!" -- mississippimarion
This colorful king cake has less sugar than the traditional cake and calls for reduced fat margarine instead of butter. Banana and pineapple give the cream-cheese filling a fun, fruity twist.
King cake on the quick! Prepared sweet-roll dough and colorful frostings speed up the cake-making process. "Beads, additional plastic babies, curly ribbon, and other festive trinkets can be used to decorate the cake." -- BUDDHAFULDREAMER
See how to make the famous King Cake from scratch. A filling of cinnamon, sugar, and pecans is rolled up in a sweet yeast dough and baked -- then topped with a glaze and festive purple, green, and gold sugars.
To hide the toy baby into the cake, insert it into the cake while it's still slightly warm from the oven. The icing and sugar decoration should cover your tracks. If you're worried about a choking hazard, substitute an orange wedge or pecan halves for the toy.
The Tradition of the King Cake
The king cake tradition began in France in the 19th century, and honors the Christian story of the three kings traveling with gifts for the Christ child. The cake's three colors represent justice (purple), faith (green), and power (gold). The cake's ring shape, too, is significant, symbolizing the unity of all Christians as well as the shape of a king's crown.
Before plastic toy babies, bakers added dried peas, coins, pecans, or beans in the cake to bestow wealth, luck, and to pick the Mardi Gras king and queen. Today people of all faiths enjoy king cakes between Twelfth Night (Epiphany) and Mardi Gras.
A New King Cake Tradition?
If you're really looking to take your Mardi Gras celebration over the top, try this Giant King Cake Burger -- which is exactly what you think it is. Laissez le bon temps rouler, for sure!