New Orleans is known for many things. Many people return every year for Mardi Gras. What most people don’t realize is that Mardi Gras is just one day. Starting 11 days before Mardi Gras, the streets of New Orleans will have carnival parades leading up to the big day.

Carnival season actually begins on January 6th. Known as King’s day, this is the day when the three wise men visited the infant Jesus. On this day, the dessert of the carnival season, the King Cake, makes its first appearance of the season.

The King Cake is a large part of the New Orleans Carnival tradition. King Cake parties bring families and communities together to celebrate the season. For many, the dessert is the main reason for the Carnival season..

In earlier times, carnival organizations used the King Cake to select their royalty. Today, the baby symbolizes luck and prosperity to whoever finds it in their slice of cake. Some bakeries now place the baby outside the cake, and leave the hiding to the purchaser. People not knowing of the tradition can be surprised when biting into the baby. King Cake parties are celebrated with the person “finding the baby,” a small plastic baby said to represent the baby Jesus, responsible for supplying the next cake. There are some people who try to hide the fact that they found the baby. However, this ruse never works.

A traditional King Cake is a twisted cinnamon roll dough topped with icing and sugar. King Cakes may also be filled with additional foodstuff, the most common being cream cheese, praline or strawberry. The three colored sugars found on the cake are purple, green and gold, the official colors of Mardi Gras. Created in 1872 by the Krewe of Rex, the colors represent purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

I find that there are two types of cooks, those who love to bake and those who don’t. Here are two recipes for King Cakes, one for bakers and one for non-bakers.

Here is a traditional King Cake.

For the Cake
2 packages (1/4 ounce each) Active Dry Yeast
1/2 cup Warm Water (110 to 115 degrees)
3/4 up Sugar, divided
1/2 cup Butter, softened
1/2 cup Warm Milk (110 to 115 degrees)
2 Egg Yolks
1 1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon grated Lemon Peel
1/4 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
4 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups All-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1 Egg, beaten

Glaze

2 cups Powdered Sugar, sifted
2 tablespoon. Light Corn Syrup
3 tablespoons Milk
1/4 teaspoon clear Vanilla Extract
Purple, Green and Gold colored Sugars

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 1/2 cup sugar, butter, milk, egg yolks, salt, lemon peel, nutmeg and 2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).

Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 16 inch by 10 inch rectangle. Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar; sprinkle over dough to within 1/2 inch of the edges. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side: pinch seam to seal. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet; pinch ends together to form a ring. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Brush with egg.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.

While cooling, make glaze. Whisk the powdered sugar, corn syrup, milk and vanilla together in a bowl. Mix until smooth and completely incorporated. Spread over cake. Sprinkle colored sugars in sections on top of the glaze.

One day, I wanted to surprise my wife with a King Cake. Knowing that I did not have a couple of hours to surprise her, I used a shortcut for the dough. Using a crescent dough sheet, I was able to pull off the surprise. She was amazed how authentic it tasted. This is now my go to King Cake recipe (I’m not a big baker).

For the Cake
1 can Crescent Seamless Dough Sheet
1 12-ounce container whipped Cream Cheese Spread
Cinnamon Sugar

For the glaze
2 cups Powdered Sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons Light Corn Syrup
3 tablespoons Milk
1/4 teaspoon clear Vanilla Extract

Purple, Green and Gold colored Sugars

Roll out the dough sheet and cut in half, lengthwise. Spread cream cheese over each half. Sprinkle each half with a generous amount of cinnamon sugar. Roll each half sheet by the widest part, sprinkling the cinnamon shear on the outside as you go. Place the crease where the dough ends on the bottom of a greased 13×9-inch pan. Connect the two rolled sections together to make a continuous cake. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 17-20 minutes.

While cake is cooling, make the glaze. Whisk the powdered sugar, corn syrup, milk, and vanilla together in a bowl. Mix until smooth and completely incorporated. Spread over cake. Sprinkle colored sugar in sections on top of the glaze.