Happy Mardi Gras, y’all! I want to show you how to make this wonderful Cinnamon King Cake with (optional) cheesecake filling for all your celebratory needs! Let’s get to it, shall we?
Round out your Mardi Gras with this easy spicy Cajun tomato soup recipe, and find all my sweet yeasted bread recipes in one place.
What Is a King Cake?
King Cakes belong to many Christian traditions.
And in the US, especially in and around the Gulf Coast and brought by the French and Spanish, we have King Cake.
A glorious riot of color here, and save for its round shape, very unlike the refined puff pastry and frangipane galette du rois in France or the candied fruit-laden braids of Spain, the Gulf Coast King Cake is all about the bling.
Gold, green and purple, the colors of Mardi Gras, either in colored sugar, in colored glaze, or both are applied with abandon.
Most King Cakes, regardless of the country, contain a bean or a coin or even–somewhat horrifyingly–a plastic baby. Whatever the token, from a religious perspective, it represents the Christ Child. In more secular traditions, whoever finds the token has to buy the next King Cake or throw the next party. Seems fair.
Why This Recipe Works
There are a few things I really love about this recipe.
For your consideration:
- This recipe makes 2 King Cakes, so you can keep one and gift one.
- It’s easy to split the recipe in half, so if you only want 1 cake, you can do that too.
- Cinnamon in the dough increasing keeping qualities, plus it tastes good.
- Buttermilk in the dough tenderizes the crumb, keeping it nice and soft.
- Did I mention it has cinnamon cheesecake filling INSIDE IT? Because that’s important.
- No plastic baby to bite into here. If you want, you can just put a pecan (or another nut) inside.
- You can use this dough to make cinnamon rolls if you prefer, so it’s a really versatile sweet dough recipe.
How to Make It
Not including the pecan (or other type of nut) you use as the “baby” in this recipe, there are three components: the dough, the filling, and the glaze.
Here’s what you’ll need to make the whole shebang:
- bread flour: I use King Arthur. You may substitute all-purpose flour for some or all of the bread flour. If so, you may need to cut back on the amount of buttermilk you use to make the dough.
- sugar: provides sweetness, tenderness, and browning. You can sub light brown sugar if you’d rather
- yeast: use active dry or instant
- salt: brings out the flavor and controls yeast growth
- cinnamon: adds flavor and extends the shelf-life just a touch
- buttermilk: adds tang and tenderness, yielding a very soft dough that bakes up nice and soft
- egg yolks: adds richness and color
- egg: binds and adds protein and liquid
- butter: use unsalted here to better control the amount of salt you use in the recipe
- vanilla: rounds out the flavors yielding a very mellow dough
- cream cheese: Use softened block cream cheese here. You can sub Neufchatel if you’d like
- sugar: provides sweetness to taste, so you can add more or less depending on how sweet you want your filling
- salt: enhances the flavor. If you leave the salt out of the filling, it will taste pretty flat
- cinnamon: If you don’t like cinnamon in cheesecake, leave it out and substitute the zest of 1 lemon instead
- eggs: Helps the cheesecake filling set up in the oven
- vanilla: rounds out the flavors
- cream cheese: Use either block or “tub” cream cheese spread here. Either will work
- butter: adds richness
- powdered sugar: provides sweetness and some body
- buttermilk: used to thin the cream cheese mixture to a glaze consistency. Adds a little tang. I highly recommend buttermilk glaze, friends!
- salt: tempers sweetness and focuses flavor
- vanilla: rounds out the flavor
Here’s how to make your dough:
- Melt the butter and cool to room temperature.
- Add all dry ingredients to the bowl of your mixer.
- Mix buttermilk, yolks, and egg into the butter and add to the mixer.
- Knead until you get a soft, smooth dough that sticks just a bit in the bottom of the bowl.
Once your dough has formed, gather it into a smooth ball and put it back in your mixing bowl.
Spray the top of the dough with pan spray or oil, cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.
While your dough is rising, mix together all the filling ingredients.
Then, divide your dough into 2 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll each half into a rectangle, spread half the cheesecake filling over each half, leaving about 1″ clear all the way around.
Roll the dough up into a cylinder, and then pinch the ends together to form a ring.
Spray your shaped rings with pan spray, cover, and let rise in a warm place until nice and puffy, about 45 minutes to an hour.
Then bake for about 30 minutes each, rotating pans from front to back and from rack to rack at the halfway point.
Once mostly cool, glaze with a thin layer of cream cheese glaze and then sprinkle on your sanding sugar.
Tips for Success
Even there there are a few steps to making this Mardi Gras Treat, it’s a fairly straightforward project.
Here are a couple of tips to make sure your King Cake-making life goes as smoothly as possible:
- Make sure your cream cheese is very soft. It will make it much easier to blend for both the filling and the glaze.
- When working with the dough, rather than flouring your surface, pan spray both the countertop and your hands to make the dough easier to work with without running the risk of adding too much flour.
- To make a homemade proof box for your dough to rise in, boil a mug of water in the microwave. Then, move the mug to one corner of the microwave and put your covered dough in. Close the door, and your dough will have a warm and moist environment perfect for rising merrily!
Q & A
Absolutely. Just divide all ingredients by two and you’ll end up with 1 filled cinnamon King cake that serves 8. NOTE: mixing, rising, and baking times will more or less stay the same
If you work straight through, you’re looking at about 4 hours or so. That includes rise times (2 of them) and baking time.
Yes you can. You can make the dough, give it the first rise, and then fill and shape it on the first day. Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the cakes overnight. The following day, pull them out about an hour or so before baking and continue with the recipe.
No, you don’t. Rather than filling and rolling, you can divide each half of your dough into 3 pieces, roll them into ropes, and then braid them. Pinch the ends of the braid together to make rings. Then allow to rise again and bake.
Because of the cheesecake filling, you should keep the King Cake refrigerated. Slice cold, allow to sit out for about 30 minutes, and then warm slices in the microwave.
Eat all your cake within 4 days or so. Baked goods tend to stale fairly quickly in the refrigerator, so it will have the best texture in the first day or two.
For longer storage, you can freeze the cakes, either whole or sliced. Cool them completely, wrap in a double layer of plastic wrap and then in heavy duty foil. Thaw overnight in the fridge and then slice and let temper at room temperature before warming in the microwave. They’ll stay nice and fresh in the freezer for up to three months.
If you have any other questions about this recipe or any other, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
You can leave a comment here, and I will be back in touch in about 24 hours.
If your question in more urgent, you can email me and I answer within about 4 hours.
Either way, I promise to help!
King Cake Decorations
I am not always a fan of brightly colored baked goods, but for Mardi Gras, I love to bring out the green, purple and gold and let the good times roll!
More Mardi Gras Recipes You Might Enjoy
Here are some other outside-the-box Mardi Gras-themed recipes you might want to take a look at. Enjoy!
- Jambalaya-Stuffed Baked Potatoes: not your traditional Jambalaya, but this year’s Mardi Gras isn’t so traditional either!
- Mardi Gras Purple Hot Chocolate: a fun and festive take on hot chocolate. I know it’s cold where I am, so this will be most welcome (and DIY colored sugar)
- Mardi Gras Beignets: Everyone’s favorite treat from Cafe du Monde in New Orleans but made at home. And decked out in festive colors to boot
A Note About Measurements
NOTE: Most of my recipes are written by weight and not volume, even the liquids.
Even though I try to provide you with volume measurements as well, I encourage you to buy a kitchen scale for ease of measuring, accuracy, and consistency.
This is the scale I use, love, and recommend.
I really hope you love this recipe, you guys!
I’d also love to have you join my PCO newsletter, The Inbox Pastry Chef!
Thanks, and enjoy!
For the Dough
- 20 oz bread flour, , 1/2 oz extra if necessary (about 4 cups)
- 2 oz granulated sugar (about 1/4 cup)
- 1 Tablespoon dry yeast
- 1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 9 oz buttermilk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 large egg
- 3 oz unsalted butter, melted (6 Tablespoons)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Filling
- 12 oz (1 1/2 blocks) of full-fat cream cheese at room temperature
- 2-4 oz granulated sugar. This is up to your taste, , so if you like it sweeter, use more sugar.
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Optional Token
- 1 pecan half per cake
For the Glaze
- 1 oz cream cheese
- 1 oz butter
- heavy pinch of fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- enough milk or buttermilk, (yum!) to make a fairly thick glaze.
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- gold decorating sugar
- green decorating sugar
- purple decorating sugar
For the Dough
- Place all the dry ingredients into the bowl of your stand mixer.
- Whisk well to combine.
- Whisk together all the wet ingredients in a bowl.
- Pour the wet into the dry ingredients and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low for 2 minutes.
- Increase the speed to medium-low and knead for about 5 minutes.
- Stop the mixer and check the dough. It should clear the sides of the bowl but stick in the bottom in about a 3" wide circle. If the dough is too wet, add the additional 1/2 oz of flour.
- Whether or not you need the extra flour, knead for an additional 5 minutes.
- Stop the mixer and check the dough. First, pull up on a portion of it. It should stretch out much farther than you think it might before tearing.
- Check the dough using the windowpane test. Pull off a small piece of dough and flatten it into a tiny pizza. Stretch it out and hold it up to the light. You should be able to stretch out the dough very thin so it is translucent before it tears.
- If the dough fails either test--it tears readily when pulled or it cannot be stretched thin, knead for another 5 minutes or so and check again.
- By this time, all should be well.
- When your dough is ready, oil your hands and form the dough into a smooth ball.
- Spray the inside of the mixer bowl with some pan spray and place the dough inside, smooth side up.
- Spray the dough with pan spray and cover with cling film or a lint free towel.
- Heat up a mug of water in your microwave until it comes to a boil.
- Push the mug over to one side of the microwave and place your bowl of dough in alongside.
- Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2-2 hours.
For the Cheesecake Filling
- Mix all the ingredients together until smooth. You can use a "smood" like I did in the video, or use your hand mixer or stand mixer or even a spoon, as long as your cream cheese is nice and soft. Mix on low speed and set aside until the dough has risen.
For the Glaze
- With a wooden spoon, smoosh the softened cream cheese and butter together until smooth.
- Add the salt, powdered sugar, and vanilla.
- Add the milk or buttermilk, a little at a time, whisking and whisking, until you have a nice, thick, smooth glaze. Make the glaze right before decorating after the cakes come out of the oven.
To Fill, Shape, Bake, and Decorate
- Turn the dough out onto a clean, smooth surface--no need to flour it, but keep your hands oiled to make it easier to work with--and press out the gases.
- Cut the dough into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a round.
- Cover one round with the upturned bowl and roll the second out into a large rectangle, about 16" x 10-12". The dough will be about 1/4" thick, and you may have to cover the dough for a few minutes if the gluten starts to fight back.
- Spread 1/2 of your cheesecake mixture evenly across the dough, leaving a 1" margin all around.
- Place a pecan half somewhere on the cream cheese mixture.
- Roll the dough up loosely like you would for cinnamon rolls. Pinch the seam together.
- Roll the log of dough so the seam is on the bottom, and bring the two ends together to form a ring. Pinch the ends together firmly all the way around so they hold together.
- Place on a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking pan, spray with pan spray and cover with plastic wrap.
- Repeat with the other portion of dough and the rest of the cream cheese mixture. And the pecan.
- Repeat the boiling water trick in the microwave.
- If there's not enough room for both to rise, preheat the oven to 350F for only about 45 seconds, and then turn off the oven. Let the other cake rise in the barely warmed oven.
- Let both cakes rise until almost doubled in size, about 45 minutes to an hour.
- Set the oven racks in the top and lower thirds of the oven.
- Take the one cake out of the oven and preheat to 350F (for real this time).
- Bake the cakes for 15 minutes.
- Rotate the pans and bake for 15 minutes more. If either seems to be browning too much, tent loosely with foil.
- Take the internal temperature of the cakes. You want a reading of right around 200F. If the reading is between 198F and 205F or so, go ahead and take them out. If not, bake for five more minutes at a time until you reach the target temperature.
- If one cake finishes baking before the other, take it out of the oven. It's okay. The other one won't get jealous.
- Let sit on the pan for a couple of minutes and then move to racks to cool.
- After about ten to fifteen minutes, spread on your glaze. The cakes will still be warm, so the glaze will thin out.
- Sprinkle the cakes with purple, gold, and green sugar and let cool completely.
NOTE: All measurements are by weight. Please--I implore you--buy a kitchen scale!
Nutritionals are calculated for 1/8 of a cake
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Nutrition InformationYield 16 Serving Size 1/16
Amount Per Serving Calories 251Total Fat 10gSaturated Fat 5gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 4gCholesterol 104mgSodium 334mgCarbohydrates 36gFiber 0gSugar 33gProtein 5g
The stated nutritional information is provided as a courtesy. It is calculated through third party software and is intended as a guideline only.
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This truly is a delicious cake, so feel free to decorate it however you see fit to make it work for any of your celebrations.
Thank you so much for spending some time with me today. Take care, and have a lovely day.