A homemade cinnamon king cake with cream cheese icing perfect for Mardi Gras.
We could literally eat king cakes all year round. Am I right? When you have had a good king cake, then you know exactly what I am talking about. I have tried a few other homemade king cake recipes, and this is one of the best ones I have tried thus far.
Mardi Gras and King Cakes
Carnival season officially began on Epiphany or King’s Day. This year, it started on January 6th. It all signifies the beginning of having a king cake in our house. It is hard not to have a delicious king cake when you are living in Louisiana. The tradition of the king cake is thought to have been brought from France to New Orleans in 1870.
It is decorated in royal colors of purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power). These three colors were chosen to resemble a jeweled crown honoring the Wise Men who visited the Christ Child on Epiphany (the “Twelfth Day” when Jesus first was seen by the three Wise Men). A tiny plastic baby is placed inside each king cake as a symbol of this Holy Day.
If you are the one to find the baby in your piece of king cake at a party, you are considered “King” for a day and bound by custom to provide the next King Cake.
What exactly do you need for a homemade king cake?
This Homemade Cinnamon King Cake with Cream Cheese Icing recipe is honestly pretty easy, more so if you have a mixer with a dough hook attachment.
Yeast: You will need active dry yeast for this recipe. It is what will create the fluffiness of the bread part of the king cake. Go with active dry yeast and not with the rapid rise one for this recipe! Letting your yeast activate is key when it comes to using yeast in your recipes. It normally will take about 5 minutes to see the foamy, bubbling of the mixture to know it is ready to roll.
Dough hook: As I mentioned above, a dough hook attachment is game changer. If you don’t have one, that is ok. It will make kneading and mixing the ingredients a thousand times easier and my hands thank me for it.
Sugar Sprinkles: Don’t skip on the sugar sprinkles. This is Mardi Gras, and a king cake needs the purple, yellow, and green.
If you can put your hands on one of those tiny plastic babies, extra cool points!
A Homemade Cinnamon King Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
For this recipe, you will first need to activate the yeast. This requires 1/2 cup of heated milk. I heated mine in a glass measuring cup in the microwave for about 45 seconds. You don’t want to scald the milk, but have it heated to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you have heated the milk, add your honey and mix it up in the milk. Then you will sprinkle the yeast on top of the milk mixture.
DO NOT STIR. You want to let this sit for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture gets foamy and bubbly. If it never gets like this, then your yeast may not be any good. Dump it out and start all over with another 2 1/4 tsp of yeast.
The butter needs to be softened or melted. I went ahead and melted the butter, but extra soft will also be good. You want it to mix well without over mixing. Add the butter to a large bowl, followed my the eggs. Mixing each egg before you add the next. Then add the vanilla extract.
Now add that activated yeast mixture. You can it mix up a bit before adding it to the bowl. Let’s add the flour. I only needed 3 cups of all-purpose flour. If you feel that your dough is still too sticky, you can add up to 1/4 cup more. Once all the flour is incorporated and you have a dough ball formed, you will want to knead it for another 5 minutes. Get that dough more stretchy! This is where those dough hooks come into play.
Let it rise, baby.
I am not very patient, but I have to be patient for this important step. You must let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place for at least 1 hour. You want it to double in size. I have let my king cake dough rise for 1 hour and then the next time time I let it rise for 3 hours. The 3 hours gave way to a less dense and more fluffy king cake. So, let the dough for this homemade cinnamon king cake with cream cheese icing rise!
Where do I let my dough rise? I usually place it in the oven, obviously turned off, and with the oven light on. This will give way to a warm space that is draft-free.
Rise and roll.
After the dough has doubled in size, then you are going to roll it out. Roll it out thin. Like pretty thin, but you are still able to roll it up jelly roll style. Before rolling it, you are going to half this dough lengthwise so you can have 2 long dough pieces. Then you are going to add the cinnamon filling.
This is where you can switch things up if you want. I wanted a cinnamon sugar filling, so used brown sugar and ground cinnamon. Of course more butter to make it more of a paste for spreading. You are going to want to go with light brown sugar. Dark brown sugar is going to be more of a robust molasses taste. Not what I am going for with this homemade cinnamon king cake with cream cheese icing.
Spread that filling on both the rolled out dough pieces. Then you are going to roll them up, lengthwise. Lastly, let us make that king cake! Take each dough log and twist them together, then connecting the ends to form a round. Let it rise one more time for about 1 hour-2 hours to rise some more. I suggest not to go past 2 hours because you risk the rising dough to fall.
Bake and decorate!
After that second rise, you are going to bake for about 25 minutes. Allow it to cool for about 5 minutes before you add the cream cheese icing! Pour it all over the king cake and decorate with those sugar sprinkles. Time to enjoy Mardi Gras!
- 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
- 1/2 milk
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- Cinnamon filling: 1/4 cup of butter, melted ; 1/2 cup of light brown sugar; 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Cream Cheese Icing: 1- 8oz block, completely softened cream cheese; 1 cup of powdered sugar
- In a glass measuring cup, heat 1/2 cup of milk until it reaches 110 degress Farhenheit.
- Add the honey and mix well
- Sprinkle the active dry yeast on top of the milk; do not stir. Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes to activate and become foamy.
- Add the melted butter, vanilla extract to a large mixing bowl. Mix soe then add the eggs, one at a time. Mix.
- Add the yeast mixture, and mix until incorporated.
- Add the flour and ground cinnamon. Switch to a dough hook, and continue to mix until a dough ball is formed. You will continue to mix to knead the dough for another 5 minutes. If you don't have a dough hook, you can do this by hand.
- Transfer the king cake dough to a bowl, and place in a warm, draft-free space to allow to double in size, about 1 hour.
- After the dough has doubled in size, you can dump it out onto parchment paper and roll it out then (less than 1/2 inch).
- Mix the filling and set it aside.
- Once you have your dough rolled out into a large rectangle, cut it in half lengthwise. Carefully spread the filling on the rolled out dough pieces, leaving about 1 inch free of the filling.
- Roll each piece longwise, jelly roll style. Once they are rolled, you are going to twist the 2 pieces together. Then connect the ends to form one circular piece.
- Transfer onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise for another 1-2 hours.
- Remove from oven, and preheat the oven to 350.
- Bake the king cake for 25 minutes, until it is browned.
- Remove from oven and allow it to cool for about 5 minutes before adding the icing.
- While the king cake cools, make the icing. Add the cream cheese to a bowl and mix up well. There shouldn't be any lump. Then add the powdered sugar and whisk until it is all creamy and mixed up.
- Pour the cream cheese icing over the king cake, and then add all those fun sprinkles!
Refrigerate the leftovers.