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Traditional Kings Cake Recipe

If you have a hard time saying goodbye to Christmas, keep the fun going by celebrating Three Kings' Day with this kings cake recipe.
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Tradition has it that the Three Wise Men saw the star in the East and followed it to Baby Jesus. In many countries, the arrival of the kings is celebrated with gifts, parades, and a kings cake 12 days AFTER Christmas.

I first remember eating Kings Cake in my high school French class. This kings cake recipe is made in the round and holds a secret bean, plastic baby, or a coin. The lucky bean-finder brought a new cake the next day. We successfully ate cake for nearly 6 weeks until our teacher was afraid we’d have a rat infestation from all the food. Maybe we went a bit overboard, but I’ve never forgotten the fun of celebrating Three Kings’ Day!

Here is someone else's experience celebrating Three Kings' Day.

What kind of cake is a kings cake?

While it’s called a cake, the recipe is made from a yeast dough, flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and orange or lemon. The finished product is similar to a brioche bread. You finish the king cake off with icing and sprinkles. The green, purple and yellow sprinkles on top symbolize faith, justice and power.

Do you bake the baby in the King cake?

Yes! Now, for legal reasons I have to offer a disclaimer here—DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, BAKE AN ACTUAL BABY INTO YOUR KINGS CAKE RECIPE! Are we clear on that? Baking a small plastic baby into your king cake is tradition. If you don't have a toy baby available, you can substitute a bean or a coin. No matter what you use, just make sure you clean it first.

The baby, bean, or coin was originally meant to represent the baby Jesus. Today it can symbolize Jesus, as well as luck and prosperity. The person who receives the slice with the surprise is said to have a lucky year ahead, and is responsible for providing the cake next year.

Why is it called Fat Tuesday?

We often refer to Mardi Gras as "Fat Tuesday," but why? It turns out, Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday in French. Mardi Gras is more than just a day, it's a whole season that begins with Three Kings' Day (AKA Twelfth Night) on January 6th and ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, which is 46 days before Easter. Three Kings' Day kicks off carnival season, which is basically a lot of parties, parades, and indulging before Lent, a six week religious fast prior to Easter, begins.

You can learn more about the history of Mardi Gras in this article, kick off your own carnival season on January 6th with the Kings Cake recipe below, and find more ways to celebrate Mardi Gras with your kids with these Family Friendly Mardi Gras Ideas.

Traditional Kings Cake Recipe

Cake Ingredients:

1 cup milk, scalded or warmed to 105 degrees

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons yeast

4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup butter (2 sticks), melted

5 egg yolks, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest

1 Tablespoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons fresh nutmeg

Icing Ingredients:

2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

1 Tablespoon fresh orange or lemon juice

Green, purple, and yellow sprinkles to taste

Kings Cake Recipe Instructions:

Pour the warm milk into a large bowl or stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, mix the sugar and yeast into the milk until bubbly. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. Whisk in butter, eggs, vanilla and zest. Switch to a dough hook or fold in sifted dry ingredients of flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. If mixing by hand, knead dough for up to 15 minutes until smooth. In the stand mixer, blend on lower setting for 10 minutes until dough pulls aways from the sides of the bowl. Cover with a clean dish towel and allow to rise until double, approximately 90 minutes, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.

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Preheat your oven to 350° F. Punch down dough and divide into three even pieces. Roll into ropes, approximately the length of a baking sheet and as thick as a paper towel tube.

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Pinch the ends together and loosely braid, tucking the bean or almond into the plait somewhere along the way.

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Lift the braid and place it on a greased baking sheet (a large pizza pan would work well too), forming a large circle by pinching the two ends together.

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Allow to rest uncovered for another 30 minutes. Bake at 350° F for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and set pan on wire rack to cool.

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Prepare the icing while your cake cools.

Kings Cake Icing Recipe Instructions:

Whisk together powdered sugar, milk, and juice until a thick consistency. Move cake to serving plate. Drizzle icing on cake and immediately decorate with colored sprinkles. Store covered for up to 3 days.

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​If you like round cakes, you'll also want to try our 7 Bundt Cake Recipes.

The Mama’s Guide to Christmas Recipes

Christmas. All the things. Are you ready? One of the most exciting aspects of Christmas is the food and treats. We have the recipes we love. The recipes we don’t. We all have our favorites and make no mistake, the foods and goodies we surround ourselves at Christmas time enhance the Christmas spirit and make this special holiday memorable. Today’s Mama wanted to share all of the Christmas recipes, tips, secrets, and hacks we’ve come to love and enjoy. To learn more about why we love Christmas and the foods it brings, check out our extensive guide to Christmas recipes

Mamas Guide To Christmas Recipes


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