Who doesn’t like King Cake (don’t answer that…)

A decorated king cake

Every year, I find myself typing up or taking really messy photos of my handwritten king cake recipe to share with friends (or really anyone who asks). It’s generally a crowd pleaser and a pretty basic king cake.

Is this the world’s best king cake? Probably not. Is it far and away better than most stuff you get at the grocery? Yep. This dough is more suited to bake-in fillings (things like jams, cinnamon, praline, cream cheese). I’m still trying to figure out what sort of cake dough I need to do an injectable pastry cream….stay tuned. Maybe one day I’ll figure that one out. I have an injector thingy, I just don’t haven’t experimented much.

So my plan with my lazy-baker blog entries is to walk the reader through the process with my own tips, to help you avoid the common pitfalls that can happen. And let me say, I have messed up many-a-king-cake since I started baking. Now, to get to it:


1 stick butter

2/3 c. milk (you can use half and half, but I actually just changed to milk and prefer it)

1/3 c. granulated sugar + 2 tbsp (separate)

1 tbsp lemon zest

2 tbsp orange zest

4 1/2 tsp yeast

1/3 c. warm water

4 eggs

2 tsp salt

6 c. all purpose flour


Step 1: In a saucepan melt the butter with 1/3 c. sugar, 2/3 c. half and half and salt. Don’t boil. Once melted, add in your zest (I zest straight into the pot). Set it aside and let it cool.

Step 2: While the milk mixture is cooling, combine yeast with 2 tbsp sugar, and the 1/3 c. warm water. (Make sure it’s warm, not hot–too hot and you’ll kill your yeast). Set it aside to bubble and froth while the milk cools (5-10 min.)

Step 3: Once frothy, add 4 eggs to yeast mixture and stir.

Step 4: Once the milk mixture is room temp, add it into the yeast mixture and stir. Add in flour by the 1/2 cup and stir it in. I usually end up using closer to 5 1/2 c. rather than 6, but sometimes it will take all six. Knead with a stand mixer for 4-5 minutes (basically until it forms a ball and is smooth. It may not form a ball, but if it’s smooth it should be fine. Let the yeast do its magic during the rise.

Step 5: Remove from bowl and put into a large oiled bowl (vegetable oil) and cover to rise for 1.5 hours (depending on your kitchen temp–you want it to double). NOTE: If you find the dough is super sticky and wet, coat your hands in oil to remove it from the mixing bowl and move it to the bowl for rising.

This recipe will make either 2 smaller cakes or one large one. I tend to make one big one, so that’s what I’ll walk you through. If you want two smaller ones, just cut your dough ball in half, and go through the baking steps below for each chunk of dough–though your bake time will differ.

Once it’s risen, you’ll plop out the dough ball onto a clean counter, with some flour. This is a very supple nice dough.

rolling out dough into a rectangle

Rough it out into a vague rectangle with your hands, then roll it out careful to try to keep the rectangle shape. I find if I start with a rough rectangle, it’s easier to roll it out and keep it more or less rectangular than if I’m rolling out from a ball.

cutting dough into thirds

You want it to be relatively thin. Like maybe 1/8″ thick (see image to the side–I’m terrible with dimensions). The longer of a rectangle you can make it, the better, because you need the length to make a circle of the braid.

With a pastry cutter, cut the rectangle into 3 even(ish) rectangles and fill your cake. Keep your filling in the center, whatever you do. You need that unadulterated dough at the edges to create a seal. A trick I figured out, is when you roll up your individual little logs of king-cake filling, to take the bottom bit, and fold it up and over the filling pressing down into the dough above (see photo), press down to seal all the way around the filling, then pull the top down and seal it over kind of like an envelope. Pinch your ends off and then you can roll the strand out on the counter with your palms a little to make the seal stick. It also has the added benefit of making the strand longer.

Once you have the three strands sealed and rolled, lay them out with a couple inches between them. You’re going to braid this a lot like you would a challah. Start in the middle and braid one direction, then go back to the middle and braid the other way. Once you have a long braided loaf, you’ll lift it up and lay it onto a parchment covered cookie sheet and shape it into a circle.

Supposedly one can meet up the ends and braid them together–I fail miserably at this–so I just match them up and tuck them in and hope for the best. It works more or less. Let it rise again for about an hour then pop it into an oven at 350F for appx. 27-32 minutes (depending on your oven and also the wetness of the filling). It should be golden when it comes out.

This one is a bit over baked (I went 35 minutes for golden and it was just too much. This is also done with half and half instead of milk (I think milk makes a softer bread)

Once it’s baked and cooled you can do what you will with it. I usually make a simple icing with powdered sugar and milk and either color that into purple, green and gold–or like I have been doing lately, leave it white and let the sugar do the work.

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