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Soft & Fluffy Mardi Gras King Cake

homemade mardi gras king cake recipe

While the rest of the world is coming up with their new year resolutions, my hometown New Orleans is getting ready for its biggest party season of the year – and it’s a delicious one at that! Mardi Gras is an amazing time of year in Louisiana, particularly for the infamous Mardi Gras King Cake that graces our grocery stores and bakeries every January.

E very New Orleanian has their favorite King Cake, and yes, I feel very strongly about mine! Hahaha. What else would you expect? Hands down my favorite king cake is from Dong Phuong (DP) in New Orleans East, a Vietnamese-French bakery that I grew up across the street from for most of my childhood. Their king cakes gained cult popularity in 2018 and for good reason! It’s incredibly soft on the inside, not a dry bite to be found, and smeared with the most luxurious icing in all the land. They are untraditional in that they are not braided and have no ring in the middle, which I think lends to its super soft texture.

Dong Phuong King Cake

My homemade Dong Phuong-style king cake

Today, I’m sharing with you a recipe I’ve developed for quite some time that’s inspired by how DP makes their Mardi Gras king cakes! The dough and icing recipes are my own, and the techniques used in shaping the cake and the desired textures and flavors were modeled after DP’s king cakes!

What is a king cake?

The version of king cakes we know today are oval-shaped brioche cakes, akin to the taste and texture of cinnamon rolls! They’re decked out with green, gold and purple sprinkles on top. The first king cakes were made in Europe to celebrate the Catholic Epiphany, and the French brought it over to Louisiana in the 1870s.

Today, king cake is synonymous with the celebration of Carnival season in New Orleans, leading up to Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras.

How is this king cake different?

When developing this DP-style recipe, I prioritized two things: (1) texture and (2) flavor. Because of that, this Mardi Gras king cake is not made like your average one, but it will be the softest and most flavorful king cake you’ll ever make at home. Here’s what’s different about this king cake:

  • No ring in the middle: less surface area in the center means more soft and fluffy dough on the inside!
  • No braiding: instead of braiding, I cut slits around the outer edge to encourage even baking while preserving the soft center.
  • Brown Butter Cream Cheese icing: this is the icing that’s on my Overnight Cinnamon Rolls, and it’s simply the best icing I’ve ever had. There’s a deep nutty flavor from the browned butter and the sugary sweetness is balanced with tangy cream cheese. It goes beautifully with this king cake! If you make anything from this recipe, MAKE THIS ICING!

How to Make Mardi Gras King Cake

There are three parts to the King Cake:

  1. Enriched Dough
  2. Cinnamon Sugar Filling
  3. Brown Butter Cream Cheese Icing

This recipe requires that the dough rest in the fridge overnight or up to three days, so plan accordingly! I love overnight doughs because you can break up the time in the kitchen. This is the schedule I normally use when I make the cake:

Example Schedule

The night before: mix dough at 6pm, finish all folds by 8pm, and refrigerate overnight.
The day of: shape the dough at 9am, proof til 10:30am, baked cake by 11am.

Step 1: Warm milk and proof the yeast.

  • Add milk and honey to a microwave-safe bowl. Warm to 100º F -110º F, not any hotter or it will kill the yeast. I use a thermometer to test this!
  • Add the yeast and mix it in. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes until foamy. If it doesn’t foam, your yeast is likely dead, so start over with fresh yeast, or else your dough won’t rise.
  • When foamy, add the eggs (room temp), and whisk to combine.

Step 2: Combine wet and dry ingredients. First proof.

  • Mix flour and salt in a stand mixer. Pour the wet ingredients into the flour on low speed. Add the room temp butter one piece at a time.
  • When the butter is all in, increase the speed to medium, and beat for about 1 minute until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is stringy and very sticky.
  • Use a spatula to spoon the sticky dough into a large greased bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest and rise for 30 minutes.

Step 3: Apply folds. Rest Overnight.

  • After 30 minutes, apply the first fold by placing your fingers under one edge of the proofed dough, pulling the dough up, and folding it back over itself. Repeat this around the entire perimeter, about 6 times. ‘
  • Cover the bowl again and rise for another 30 minutes. Repeat this folding step 3 more times, waiting 30 minutes in between each fold for a total of 2 hours and 4 folds.
  • Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate overnight or up to 72 hours to develop flavor!

Step 4: Brown butter & cool overnight.

  • Melt unsalted butter over medium heat. It will make crackling sounds as the water evaporates from the butter. Simmer until the crackling sounds reduce and the butter gets a faint tint of brown (see pic below), about 5-8 minutes.
  • Remove from heat before it burns, pour into a heat-safe bowl, and cover at room temp to solidify overnight. You can also do this the next day – I just find it more convenient to do it beforehand!

Step 5: Roll out the dough, shape & proof

  • On the day of, punch down the cold dough and knead about 10 times to wake up the yeast. Roll out the dough into a 14-inch by 18-inch wide rectangle. Use a fork to gently poke holes all throughout the dough to help with even baking. Brush the melted butter and heavy cream on top. Sprinkle cinnamon, brown sugar, and salt evenly over the top and press with your hands to adhere.
  • To roll, start with one of the long edges, and roll into a tight log and stop when you’ve reached the middle of the rectangle. Do the same on the other side to create two logs in a scroll shape. Carefully transfer the dough log to a lined baking sheet, scroll-side down, and shape into a U. If you’d like it to be a full oval, pinch the two ends together. Use a knife to cut 1.5-inch slits about 1.5 inches apart around the entire perimeter of the cake. Then cut a slit in the thickest part of the cake in the center.
  • Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let the cake rise one last time in a warm spot until fully proofed, 1 to 1 1/2 hours!

Step 6: Bake Cake & Make the Icing

  • Preheat oven to 350º F.
  • To make icing, cream the room temp brown butter and cream cheese in a mixer. Add powdered sugar and milk. Mix just until combined, you’re not looking to whip it too much. Add more powdered sugar or milk as needed for desired consistency. This icing is more like frosting, so the consistency will be more voluminous like a buttercream.
  • Bake the cake uncovered for 32-38 minutes at 350º F, rotating the pan halfway through, until golden brown on top.
  • When cake done is baking and still warm, brush on 1/4 cup of heavy cream all over the cake. This is what prevents a hard crust from forming and adds extra moisture to the cake! It’s a must!
  • When the cake is completely cooled, spread on the icing and top with sprinkles!
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mardi gras king cake

Soft and Fluffy Mardi Gras King Cake

  • Author: Maria Do
  • Prep Time: 3 hours
  • Resting Time: 12-72 hours
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 hours 35 minutes
  • Yield: 1 large king cake, 14-16 slices 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Cuisine: American, French, New Orleans
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

This king cake is inspired by my hometown bakery in New Orleans East, Dong Phuong Bakery. Their brioche, ring-less king cake is a unique take on the traditional and absolutely delicious!

Example Schedule: Mix dough at 6pm the night before, roll out and shape at 9am, bake at 10:30am, finished king cake by 11am.


Ingredients

Scale

Dough

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour (568 g)
  • 2 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 3/4 cup warm whole milk (100110 Fº)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (7 g)
  • 4 large eggs, room temp
  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter, softened to room temp, cut into 1-inch pieces (1 1/4 sticks)

Cinnamon Filling

  • 1 cup dark or light brown sugar, (110 g)
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp salted butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream

Icing & Sprinkles

  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened to room temp (3/4 stick)
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened to room temp (1/2 block)
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, packed
  • 2 1/2 tsp whole milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, for brushing on top after baking
  • sprinkles (purple, green, gold)

Instructions

The Night Before – Mix the dough to rest overnight

  1. In a large glass measuring cup or bowl, add the warm whole milk (100ª F – 110ªF), honey, and instant yeast, and whisk to combine. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes until foamy. If it doesn’t foam, your yeast may have died, so start over with fresh yeast! When the mixture is foamy, add the eggs (room temp) and whisk to combine.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, add flour and salt. Stir on low to combine. With the mixer on low speed, pour the wet ingredients into the flour to combine. Then add the room temp butter one piece at a time. When the butter is all in, increase the speed to medium, and beat for about 1 minute until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is stringy and very sticky. Use a spatula to spoon the sticky dough into a large greased bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest and rise for 30 minutes.
  3. After 30 minutes, apply the first fold by placing your fingers under one edge of the proofed dough, pulling the dough up, and folding it back over itself. Repeat this motion around the entire perimeter of the dough, turning the bowl as you go, until it’s completely folded over itself, about 6 times. Cover the bowl again and rise for another 30 minutes. Repeat this folding step 3 more times, waiting 30 minutes in between each fold, for a total of 2 hours and 4 folds. Cover the bowl, and refrigerate overnight or up to 72 hours. This resting time allows your dough to develop serious flavor!
  4. Use the downtime in between folds to brown the butter for the icing since it will need to solidify again. Melt unsalted butter in a saucepan over medium heat until the butter gets a tint of brown, not too dark, about 10 minutes. It will smell nutty and delicious! Pour into a heatsafe bowl, and cover at room temp to solidify overnight.

The Day Of – Shape & Bake the King Cake

  1. Line a 18″ x 13″ baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
  2. On a floured work surface, punch down your cold dough and knead about 10 times just to wake up the yeast. Roll out the dough into a 14-inch by 18-inch wide rectangle. Use a fork to poke holes every 2 inches or so throughout, then brush the heavy cream and melted butter on top. Sprinkle cinnamon mixture evenly over the top, and press it in lightly with your hands to adhere to the butter and cream. To roll, start with one of the long edges, and roll into a tight log and stop when you’ve reached the middle of the rectangle. Do the same on the other side to create two logs in a scroll shape.
  3. Carefully transfer the dough onto your lined baking sheet, scroll side down. You can use a bench scraper or small cutting board to help with the transfer. Form the dough into a U-shape. If you’d like it to be a full oval, pinch the two ends together. Carefully stretch the thicker end of the U out so that it’s generally level with the other side. It’s okay if it’s not perfect; we’ll cover the cake in icing!
  4. Use a knife to cut 1.5-inch slits about 1.5 inches apart around the entire perimeter of the cake. Then cut a slit in the thickest part of the cake in the center (see photo). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let the dough rise one last time in a warm spot until fully proofed, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. While the cake is proofing, mix the icing.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, add the solidified browned butter you made the night before and room temp cream cheese. Beat until combined. Add powdered sugar and milk. Mix just until combined, we don’t want this to be super whipped. Add more powdered sugar or milk as needed for desired consistency. This icing is more like frosting, so the consistency will resemble a buttercream. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350º F (180º C).
  6. Bake the proofed king cake for 32-38 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through until golden brown on top. When the cake is done and still warm, brush on 1/4 cup of heavy cream all over the cake. This keeps it soft and prevents the crust from developing any more. It feels wrong, but do it anyway! It should absorb fully after 15 mins. When the cake is cooled completely, spread on the brown butter icing. Decorate with the purple, green, and gold sprinkles. Slice & enjoy!

Keywords: dong phuong, king cake, New Orleans king cake, traditional king cake

FAQs – Equipment

  • What if I don’t have a stand mixer? You can make this recipe without a stand mixer for sure, but it will take time to mix the butter into the dough by hand. Worth it though!
  • Can I use a hand mixer instead? No, hand mixers won’t be able to handle the dough. Just use those arm muscles and knead! For the icing, a hand mixer is totally fine.

FAQs – the dough

  • Why do we knead cold dough? With enriched doughs, the butter and cream make it harder for yeast to bloom. So, giving the dough a quick knead after it’s been in the fridge overnight helps waken the yeast and gives it a jump start.
  • Is the dough supposed to be sticky? Yep! The stickiness gives the cake its soft, fluffy, and moist texture. I suggest rolling out the dough when it is chilled because it is much, much easier to handle.
  • What does folding do? Folding builds gluten (think of it as lazy kneading). It helps build the dough’s structure, making it easier to handle and gives the cake its pull-apart, stringy texture.

FAQs – Ingredients

  • Can I add other fillings inside the cake? Sure! But pay extra attention to the rolling process since the cinnamon filling is on the dry side and more toppings will not adhere as well. You’ll want to make sure your king cake is still tight and compact when you roll it.
  • What if I have active dry yeast, not instant? This is totally fine! You just need to let the active dry yeast rest in the warm milk and honey for 10-15 minutes until foamy, before the eggs are added like the recipe states.

    A while ago, I bought a 1 lb bag of yeast and thought it was excessive, but I just hated buying the yeast packets one roll at a time. So I’ve just kept that bag of yeast in my freezer. When COVID struck in 2020 and yeast started selling out, I counted my baking blessings. Haha. If you bake at all, I would recommend purchasing in bulk and keeping it in your freezer. It’s perfectly fine in there and the $9 price tag will pay off in 5 bakes or so. Totally worth it. You can purchase the yeast brand I use, Red Star, on Amazon!
  • Can you use Gluten-Free flour with yeast? I haven’t tested this recipe for gluten-free alternatives yet but if I did, I’d go to King Arthur Baking Co’s website to research ASAP! Check out this article on Gluten-Free Yeast Baking to test it out and let me know if you do!

For High Altitude Bakers

I developed this recipe in my home in Louisiana. If you live in an area that has a high altitude, the proofing times may fluctuate because the air pressure is lower in colder climates. I would recommend checking out King Arthur’s High Altitude Baking post before you make this recipe to plan for any minor adjustments!

For more cake and bread recipes like this, check out the bread and dessert categories on my site!

Loved this recipe? Leave me a rating in the comments below!

Your comments and ratings help so much, so thank you in advance for letting me know what you think! 🙂

CategoriesBreads
  1. Ali says:

    5 stars
    This was absolutely amazing — my friend and I moved away from New Orleans this year and have been missing King Cake season like crazy. This was the best way to bring a little New Orleans to us! The recipe was SO easy to follow and understand, and the pictures were so helpful. The brown butter cream cheese frosting is EVERYTHING ❤️ and it all tastes incredible! Thank you so much!

  2. Craig Peyton says:

    Dong Phuong sprays something on before baking looks like cream ! They also laminate the dough. They spread butter and milk for adhesion of cinnamon filling according to the owner after docking dough ! They are fantastic I hope to try your receipt soon ! Thanks

  3. Christie Weeks says:

    5 stars
    Omigosh–first King Cake I’ve ever made (though like most Louisianians I can’t count how many I’ve bought.) Well worth the effort and the overnight/longer break is fine and provides good flexibility for working into one’s schedule. Didn’t have sprinkles, but that doesn’t impact the taste. Many thanks!

  4. Allison says:

    5 stars
    This recipe is the best!! I am not a skilled baker, but Maria’s instructions and pictures made every step crystal clear. I’m picky about king cake, and I appreciate this one being the real deal. It’s flavorful, not too sweet, and has the most satisfying texture. It turned out beautifully, and I will be making it again!

  5. Ezra Remer says:

    5 stars
    I’ve eaten/made many a King Cake throughout my life here in New Orleans. This recipe is hands down the best king cake I’ve ever tasted! I bought a Dong Phuong for comparison and all my friends/family agree that this recipe beats it out, which is quite a feat! That brown butter icing really brings this moist cake to the next level 🙂

  6. Ricki Smith says:

    5 stars
    I am a seasoned King Cake baking vet. This recipe is aces. It’s easy, flavorful, and incredibly fluffy. I enjoyed baking it and will be using this as my go-to from now on. I’m not very fancy so I just rolled my cake into the classic oblong ring. It’s was a knockout nonetheless!

  7. Diana says:

    5 stars
    One of the best king cakes I have ever had! (And I have had many!) I love how easy to follow this recipe was. The author was even considerate enough to break up the timing needs for each step. The pictures made it easier to follow along too. I made this for my coworkers and family and everyone loved it! Well done. Well written.

  8. Laurel says:

    5 stars
    Love love love this recipe! I had never made a king cake until this recipe. Very easy to follow, great pictures for the step by step direction. The cake comes out perfectly every time, lives up to its soft and fluffy name, and the brown butter cream cheese icing is amazing. Can’t recommend this recipe enough!

      1. Mary says:

        5 stars
        This recipe is amazing on so many levels. First, the icing. WOW. So good. Then the cake – perfectly soft and fluffy. As a novice baker, I appreciated the thorough step by step directions and visuals! It made everything much less intimidating. This king cake is 110% worth the prep time in my book.

  9. Theresa says:

    5 stars
    As a south Louisiana native, I’m a King Cake connoisseur and this cake is delectable! I’ve spent many an early morning in the Dong Phuong line in hopes to nab one, but now I can spend that time in my own kitchen making memories.
    The recipe is easy to follow and not too difficult for any level baker to attempt. It makes a huge cake, so be ready to share with friends and family!

      1. Nguyen says:

        5 stars
        Made this King Cake last week, first time baking anything. Instructions were really clear and the pictures helped a ton! One small nitpick is to include the amounts of each ingredient within the instructions just to avoid a lot of scrolling and cross referencing. The King Cake was amazing! Frosting was definitely my favorite thing! I added double the recommended cream cheese and it did not disappoint haha. I will definitely be making this again, maybe this time I won’t burn anything. ????

  10. Ally says:

    5 stars
    This recipe is top notch!!! I was blown away by the flavor and the texture. As a rusty baker, this recipe is easy and simple to follow. I plan to make this pretty frequently for friends, family and neighbors. You’ve got to give it a try, you will not be disappointed.

      1. Lamia says:

        5 stars
        Do not sleep on this king cake. Definitely at least on the top 3 king cakes I’ve ever had and definitely the best that I’ve made. It might actually the be the best king cake I’ve had but saying that feels like bragging.

        I worried that my cold proof wasn’t long enough because the dough seemed a bit stiff when rolling it out but it turned out beautifully fluffy and perfect. I also forgot the fork hole-poking step and it was fine.

        I may try a layer or two of lamination next time to see if I can get it more Dong Phuong-y since I remember theirs being flaky. But this one is amazing as-is.

        The icing is the star of the show. Amazing. Probably the only icing I’ll ever make again.

        I made sanding sugar by adding a few drops (3-4) of food coloring to about 1.5 tablespoons of sugar. Sugar in the raw worked well for green and yellow. I had to use plain white granulated sugar for purple and still had a hard time getting purple tbh. I think I ended up using a bit more red than blue.

        Honestly a very approachable recipe with minimal dishes if you play it right. (For example I used the same small pot to brown the butter for the icing, then to melt butter for the filling, then for the whipping cream to brush on top. Browned butter went directly into the kitchen aid bowl for the icing later.) Cleaning up as you go during the downtime also helps and is easy to do.

    1. Kayla Painter says:

      5 stars
      I love this king cake recipe. This was my first time ever making a king cake and I would recommend giving this recipe a go. The instructions were easy to follow and I appreciated the pictures that are included. I was able to double check the pictures for reference to make sure I was on track. Give this recipe a try!

  11. Daniel says:

    5 stars
    this king cake is hands-down the best one I’ve ever had! It is so soft, and the icing is one-of-a-kind. better than Dong Phuong

    1. Zoe says:

      5 stars
      First king cake I’ve ever made and I was so happy with how well it turned out! Though somewhat time consuming, the recipe itself is easy for beginner bakers and definitely pays off! 10/10 reviews from myself and everyone who’s tried it, and I’ll definitely be making more of these.

      1. Hannah Estopinal says:

        5 stars
        My first time making a king cake was so easy and fun with this recipe. It came out DELICIOUS! As a beginner baker, the pictures throughout the narrative were top notch and helped me greatly to know what in the world I was doing or if I was doing it right (I was! yay!). As I no longer live in Louisiana, Mardi Gras season is always a little sad for me, but my first bite of this king cake took me instantly back to my roots! Happy to be sharing some Louisiana love to my friends and neighbors in DC.

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