Mardi Gras King Cake

Slicing a King Cake

The Spruce / Molly Watson

  • Total: 50 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins
  • Cook: 35 mins
  • Yield:

Canned crescent dough replaces a long-rising yeasted dough, and colored sugar replaces dyed royal icing to make the wide stripes of color —purple for justice, green for faith, and yellow for power—traditional on a Mardi Gras King Cake. Those two shortcuts make this the easiest king cake ever.

Ingredients

  • For the Filling:
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • Optional: 1/2 cup rum-soaked raisins, drained
  • 1 dried bean, whole almond, or ceramic figure token
  • For the Cake:
  • 2 cans refrigerated crescent roll dough
  • For the Topping:
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Purple, green, and gold colored sugar or sanding sugar (available at gourmet stores and party stores)
  • Optional: royal icing 
  • Optional: purple (red and blue work), green, and yellow food coloring

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients and preheat the oven to 350 F.

  2. To create the filling, whirl 8 ounces cream cheese and 1 cup brown sugar in a food processor until evenly combined. Then add 1/2 cup pecans, pulse to chop the nuts and combine. Add the optional 1/2 cup drained rum-soaked raisins with the pecans and set aside.

  3. Begin by unrolling crescent roll dough and separating the dough into triangles. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray or cover the sheet with parchment paper. Position the triangles next to each other with the points toward the center, overlapping the long sides by about 1/4-inch. You will be forming a large circle with all of the triangles.

    Lay Triangle on a Baking Sheet
    The Spruce / Molly Watson
  4. Continue laying all the triangles to make a circle. As you arrange the triangles, leave the edges of the seams unsealed so you can adjust them and move them around to get them in a relatively even circle. 

    Lay All the Triangles to Create a Circle
    The Spruce / Molly Watson
  5. Use your fingers to press the center of the triangle edges together—just in the center where the filling is going to go. Leave the rest of the edges unsealed so you can fold both the outer and inner edges up and over the filling.

    Press Inner Seams Together
    The Spruce / Molly Watson
  6.  Spread the filling evenly in a ring in the center of the dough as pictured.

    King Cake Filling
    The Spruce / Molly Watson
  7. Some people may skip this step, but it's not a king cake without a token! You can use a dried red bean, a whole almond, or a small ceramic baby (representing the Christ child). Here, a fun little ceramic pig is used. Place your token somewhere in the filling before enclosing the filling.

    Add the
    The Spruce / Molly Watson
  8. Fold the outer edge of each triangle toward the center just to the edge of the filling to cover.

    Fold Outer Pieces First
    The Spruce / Molly Watson
  9. Continue in the circle until the filling is enclosed. 

    Fold Over All Outer Pieces
    The Spruce / Molly Watson
  10. Lift the pointed ends of the triangles up and over the cake toward the outer rim of the pan to fully enclose the filling, tucking under the points if they're long. Lightly press the seams.

    Fold Inside Edges
    The Spruce / Molly Watson
  11. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk to create an egg wash. Brush the cake with the egg wash. You can bake the cake now if you'd rather proceed with a traditional version that will be colored with icing at the end.

    King Cake Enclosed
    The Spruce / Molly Watson
  12. For the easiest king cake ever, though, you're going to add the color before baking, by creating wide stripes of color with the sanding sugar as shown here. Whether sugared or not, bake at 350 F until golden brown and cooked through 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

    Add Colored Sugar
    The Spruce / Molly Watson
  13. Your king cake is ready to serve. Like most baked goods, it is best the day it is made.

    Baked King Cake
    The Spruce / Molly Watson

Recipe Variations

  • If you like easy, but you also like icing, feel free to drizzle on white royal icing—it looks pretty with the colored sugar.
  • For a more traditional iced king cake, divide the icing evenly between 3 bowls. Add 2 drops purple or 2 drops each of red and blue to the first bowl to make purple. Use 2 drops yellow in the second bowl and 2 drops green in the third bowl. Mix the icing in each bowl so the dye is completely incorporated for an evenly colored icing.
  • Use a spoon or spatula to paint wide striped of each color on the cake. For better control, scrape each individual bowl into its own sealable plastic bag, squeeze out all the air, seal the bag, snip off one corner of the bag, and use it as a pastry bag to pipe wide stripes of icing on the King Cake. The icing should firm up and the cake ready to serve in about an hour.

When the cake is cut and shared, the finder of the hidden treasure is said to enjoy good luck for the coming year. The lucky recipient may also be expected to bake the King Cake or throw the Mardi Gras party for the following year.