Traditional King Cake

traditional king cake

Once upon a time my husband and I lived in Durham, NC, and had a neighbor who threw a rocking Mardi Gras party on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday every year. He’s the one who introduced us to King Cake — and to a new food tradition. This year, it’s just about time to shake open that package of yeast and stir in some flour. To glaze the cake and sprinkle bright colors on top. To slice and eat — and to search for the lucky piece with the toy baby hidden inside.

Recipe adapted from Southern Living magazine

Makes 2 cakes (about 18 servings each). Plan to halve the recipe unless you’re expecting company.


for the cake
  • 1 (16-ounce) container sour cream
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tsp. fine sea salt
  • 1/2 ounce package active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (100°F to 110°F)
  • 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 6 to 6 1/2 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour (makes a more dense cake)
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
for the glaze
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 to 4 Tbsp. milk
  • Purple, green and gold colored sugar sprinkles


  1. Cook first four ingredients in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until butter melts. Set aside, and cool mixture to 100 to 110 degrees.
  2. Stir together yeast, warm water and 1 Tbsp. sugar in a 1-cup glass measuring cup; let stand 5 minutes.
  3. Beat sour cream mixture, yeast mixture, eggs, and 2 cups flour at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until smooth. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add enough remaining flour (4 to 4 1/2 cups) until a soft dough forms.
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, 1 hour or until dough is doubled in bulk.
  5. Punch down dough, and divide in half. Roll each portion into a 22- x 12-inch rectangle. Spread 1/3 cup softened butter evenly on each rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border. Stir together 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle evenly over butter on each rectangle.
  6. Roll up each dough rectangle, jelly-roll fashion, starting at one long side. Place one dough roll, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bring ends of roll together to form an oval ring, moistening and pinching edges together to seal. Repeat with second dough roll.
  7. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, 20 to 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
  8. Make glaze by stirring together sugar, butter, lemon juice and vanilla. Stir in 2 Tbsp. milk, adding additional milk, 1 tsp. at a time, until glaze becomes easy to drizzle.
  9. Bake at 375°F for 14 to 16 minutes or until golden. Slightly cool cakes on pans for about 10 minutes. Drizzle glaze evenly over warm cakes; sprinkle with colored sugars. Cool completely before serving.