This Easy King Cake is a Mardi Gras dessert or breakfast and it’s a twist on our family’s favorite Cream Cheese Tea Roll. The king cake is decorated with bold yellow, green and purple sugars, the colors of Mardi Gras, and filled with sweetened cream cheese before baking.
What is a King Cake?
As a child, our King Cake was served on Epiphany, the last of the 12 Days of Christmas. Epiphany celebrates the three kings or wise men visiting the baby Jesus, so a cake named after these kings seems apropos. If my mom would remember, she’d wrap a coin in foil and bake it into the cake. This was in lieu of a plastic baby that some use today, and the finder of the prize was granted good luck for the year ahead.
In some cases, the person who finds the baby, coin, bean, etc. in their slice must buy next year’s king cake. All I remember was the chaos at our dinner table as we cared more about getting the coveted penny than the eating cake!
Nowadays, a king cake is more aligned with Mardi Gras, AKA Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. King cakes are found in grocery stores across the states, made of eggy brioche dough or even puff pastry and filled with cream cheese, cinnamon sugar, fruit or chocolate. Most are decorated in those traditional colors which represent power (gold), faith (green) and justice (purple) and shaped in a ring, symbolizing a crown. This is my easy version!
Tips for Making an Easy King Cake
If you forget to purchase a king cake before Fat Tuesday, you can easily make this semi-homemade version at home.
- Starting with a loaf of frozen bread dough makes the process super simple. Just wrap the frozen dough in plastic or place in a Zipoc bag and let the dough defrost overnight in the refrigerator.
- Make sure your cream cheese sets out for at least 30 minutes before mixing the filling. It should be soft enough so that it blends smoothly.
- I like to use a large Silpat to roll out my dough. I dust it with flour, roll the dough, shape and transfer to a baking sheet. All I have to do is fold up the silicone mat and shake off the flour over the trash can. Easy cleanup is a bonus.
- Once the filling is spread on the dough, roll it over the cream cheese filling just like you were making cinnamon rolls. You want to avoid spreading the cream cheese mixture all the way to the top and bottom edges or it will seep out when you roll. The goal is to have a roll that’s the same diameter all the way across.
- After it’s rolled, the two ends must be connected so the rope becomes a ring. Pinch the two ends together the best you can so that it’s sealed. I’ve made this a lot and it’s hard to get a picture perfect ring. If your filling doesn’t come all the way to both ends, feel free to trim the ends to the filling.
- Next, take a sharp knife and make cuts from the outside to about 7/8 of the way through at 1 1/2-inch intervals. Don’t cut all the way through to the center!
- Then, take each section you’ve cut and twist so the swirl of dough and cream cheese faces upwards. The sections will overlap as seen in the photos. Go around once, then make adjustments as needed.
- Once you’re satisfied with the look, you can proof the dough, bake, frost, sprinkle with colored sugars and enjoy!
I sent the leftovers home with my youngest to share with his roommates. Apparently, it didn’t last long! Hope you have time to make a king cake this year!
More Mardi Gras Recipes You’ll Love:
Bananas Foster is a super easy, traditional New Orleans dessert served over ice cream, Chicken Jambalaya Soup is spicy, comforting and flavorful, and this Sausage and Chicken Gumbo is a delectable Louisiana classic!Print
Easy King Cake
A semi-homemade cream cheese filled tea roll iced, then decorated with colored sugars for Mardi Gras
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 55 minutes
- Yield: 8 servings 1x
- Category: Breakfast, Brunch, Dessert
- Method: Rolling, Cutting, Mixing
- Cuisine: American
- 1 loaf frozen sweet or white dough, defrosted in the refrigerator overnight
- 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1+ tablespoons milk
- Gold, green and purple sanding sugars
- Roll dough to a 16 x 12 rectangle (approximately). Spread filling on top. Roll up dough as if making cinnamon rolls. Seal ends together to make ring. Make cuts every 1 1/2 inches or so, about 3/4+ of the way through the ring (from outside towards the middle). I like to make 12 sections so that I can have 4 of each color.Twist each ring on its side so that filling shows.
- Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot for about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350º. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool before icing.
- Whisk or beat together glaze ingredients and add enough milk to thin into a glaze.
- Brush over the bread, avoiding the filling, one section at a time.
- Before the glaze over each section dries, sprinkle the glaze with sugar, alternating between colors.
- Let set before serving.