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Cinnamon Pecan King Cake Recipe

Cinnamon Pecan King Cake Recipe

Today I bring you my all time favorite seasonal dessert – a King Cake recipe! King cakes are the official dessert of Carnival season and Mardi Gras. Here in New Orleans and in several places along the Gulf Coast, when it’s Carnival season, it’s also King Cake season. I’m really excited about sharing this with you today… Okay, there’s so much to say. Why don’t I just get started?

Let’s first start with what a King Cake is. I’m not gonna bore you with the ancient history of it. You can find a pretty good summary here. A King Cake is typically a large, oval shaped cake made out of a bread dough that’s similar in texture and taste to a cinnamon roll. The most traditional modern King Cakes are just filled with cinnamon and pecans, but numerous filled varieties do exist with things like blueberry, strawberry cream cheese, and bavarian cream all being very popular. The King Cake is iced typically with a white icing – similar to cinnamon roll icing – and then topped with purple, green and gold sanding sugar sprinkles. This is what I think of as the most basic and best type of King Cake, and that’s what I have prepared for you here.

Cinnamon Pecan King Cake Recipe
Some of you may have noticed that I said “Carnival season” up top. That’s because the time period between Twelfth Night (January 6th) and Mardi Gras day (the day before Ash Wednesday) is considered Carnival season, not Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is a day. Mardi Gras translates literally into “Fat Tuesday.” So it’s most proper to refer to this time of year as Carnival season, not Mardi Gras. And believe me, I’ve lived here nearly all my life and just recently learned the difference. It’s okay if you’re just learning it, too.

While Carnival season and Mardi Gras itself are typically characterized by debaucherous parades, copius amounts of cheap plastic beads, and barrels o’ booze, there’s also more to it than that. Sure, that’s what it’s mostly turned into these days (especially here), but for local people who live here in New Orleans (and the surrounding areas) and celebrate Carnival as a cultural happening, it’s about spending time with good friends and family. It’s also about observing and keeping traditions alive. I’m not going to go into the full history of Mardi Gras either. I’d just be rehashing what you’d find here.

Cinnamon Pecan King Cake Recipe

I also briefly mentioned the colors of Mardi Gras earlier. Those are purple, green and gold. Each color is symbolic and holds meaning. And another funny thing is that you ask 100 people, and 99 of them will list the colors in that order: purple, green and gold. It’s just how it goes. Anyway, the purple represents justice; the green stands for faith; and the gold represents power. These colors were chosen in 1872 to honor a visiting Russian dignitary. Why? I’m not sure… I guess Rex (King of Carnival) was a fan of the Russians??? Anyway, that’s why we have them and what they stand for. Justice, faith and power. I like it. 🙂

Something that has become a traditional part of the King Cake is the miniature plastic baby. Some say it represents baby Jesus, but it doesn’t. The tradition of adding a baby to the King Cake actually started back in the 1940’s at McKenzie’s Bakery here in New Orleans. And the plastic baby actually started out as a small porcelain doll. As time passed, the phenomena caught on and progressed from ceramic dolls to plastic naked babies. A few companies still do porcelain dolls but very few. Ms. Alberta Lewis of New Orleans creates custom figurines for the Haydel’s Bakery here in New Orleans. Below are two that I’ve collected over the years. One is a Who Dat Pope (for the Saints winning the Super Bowl), and the other is a female red bean. I’m not sure if she’s got any significance other than that red beans (and rice) are wildly popular here.

Cinnamon Pecan King Cake Recipe
So now that I’ve shared a little about King Cakes, Carnival and miniature naked plastic babies, let’s get into the actual cake making. This is one of the first King Cakes I’ve ever made at home. They’re so quick and easy to pick up from the store that it’s hardly worth the effort to make one. It’s like with any baked good or bread – you can do it yourself, but someone else probably has a tastier one… HOWEVER, some people love to bake. Some people like to know exactly what’s in their cake. Some folks (GASP!) live where they can’t even get King Cake. This recipe is for all of you.

As with any other yeast bread, this King Cake does take quite a while to make. It’s about four hours from top to bottom. The active time is about an hour or so and the rest is either proofing or baking time. So it’s definitely the kind of thing you can do on a weekend with some time. What I basically did was take my cinnamon roll recipe from fall of 2012, and made it into a large ring instead of cutting it into cinnamon rolls. That’s really the only difference between what I have here and an actual cinnamon roll. Okay, well the icing is actually different from what I’d put on a cinnamon roll (I like cream cheese icing on cinnamon rolls). But anyway, the cake tastes like a cinnamon roll.

Cinnamon Pecan King Cake Recipe
To close, a couple of caveats… This cake tastes best when eaten the day it’s made. You can keep it for up to five days after that in the refrigerator. You will want to microwave a slice for about 25 seconds or so to get the chill off and soften the bread up a bit. The King Cake will become stiff in the fridge, but a zap in the microwave will fix that right up. Be sure to eat whatever you heat up because you don’t want to run that through the microwave a second time. It will be like cardboard.

Happy Carnival to all you folks out there! I hope you make this King Cake prior to March 4th because that’s when Mardi Gras day is and that’s your last chance to make one. It’s a huge faux pas to make and/or eat King Cake outside of Carnival season. Many people are downright militant about it around here when the see it or hear of it. I’m easy about it, but I do like keeping it as a special, seasonal thing. Cheers!

Yield: 10-12 portions

Cinnamon Pecan King Cake Recipe

This cinnamon pecan King Cake recipe is a classic presentation of the much beloved Mardi Gras dessert. Cinnamon pecan is a traditional flavor combination.


King Cake Dough:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-0.25 ounce package active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Extra flour for kneading (about 1/2 cup)

King Cake Filling:

  • 1 cup raw sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Icing Glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Finishing Sugars:

  • 2 tablespoons each purple, green and golden yellow sanding sugars


  1. In a small saucepan, heat and stir milk, butter, sugar and salt until just warm.
  2. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the yeast and warm water. Allow yeast to bloom while milk mixture is heating.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm milk mixture and 1 1/4 cups of flour. Mix on low with a dough hook until incorporated.
  4. Add the bloomed yeast and the two eggs. Mix well on low to combine. Scrape sides of bowl with spatula to ensure even mixing.
  5. Add remaining flour and the cinnamon. Mix again on low to make a soft dough that pulls away from the side of the mixing bowl. Scrape down the sides as needed. Mix until the dough is just combined and no dry flour remains.
  6. When done, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (3 to 5 minutes total) using extra flour as needed to ensure dough is not sticky.
  7. Shape the dough into a ball. Place in a greased bowl, turn once. Cover with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  8. Carefully punch dough down. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and divide in half. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, place a Silpat or parchment paper on a baking sheet.
  10. For filling, stir together raw sugar, 1/4 cup flour and cinnamon. Cut in the 5 tablespoons of butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  11. Roll each half of dough into a large rectangle, roughly 16”x10". Scatter the filling and the pecans over dough rectangles.
  12. Roll up each rectangle starting from a long side and seal the seams. Reshape with hands until both rolls of dough are the same width.
  13. Move each length of dough onto the baking sheet. Connect both ends of each to form a large oval with a wide open center.
  14. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm place until nearly double, about 30 minutes.
  15. When you are setting the dough to rise at this final point, preheat the oven to 375 ºF.
  16. After rising, bake 25 minutes or until light brown.
  17. While the King Cake is baking, prepare the glaze. In a small mixing bowl, combine powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract. Mix with a fork or whisk until all powered sugar lumps are removed.
  18. When the King Cake is done, remove it from oven and set the baking sheet on a wire rack for cooling. Allow to cool completely before attempting to ice the cake. This will take about an hour or so.
  19. Once King Cake is completely cool, use a small offset icing spatula to spread the glaze over the top of the King Cake. Alternate each of the three colored sugars on top, making each colored sugar stripe about 1 1/2  inches wide or so.
  20. Cut and serve!

Prep:1 hour

Cook:25 min

Total:4 hour 5 min

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