King Cake, Gluten-Free

Happy almost Mardi Gras, everyone. As you know, I am a Southern girl at heart, so I love the concept of the New Orleans Mardi Gras. I’ve only been to New Orleans once, but that one time sealed itself in my heart as confirming that I love the South.

As you probably know, Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday,” and refers to the day before Ash Wednesday.  In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the fasting and self renunciation season of Lent.  Thus Mardi Gras is supposed to be one big blow out of a party to allow everyone to indulge themselves before the Lenten season.  In New Orleans, Mardi Gras has turned into a gigantic party season for the whole city, starting on Twelfth Night (January 6th), culminating in parades and balls on Mardi Gras. This year, Mardi Gras is somewhat late in the year, March 8.

One of Girlfriend’s pals has parents who were born and raised in New Orleans. And, every year they have a Mardi Gras party, with the King Cake as the centerpiece.   I had never encountered a New Orleans King Cake before this.  As it turns out, the Mardi Gras King Cake is basically a brioche–which is a combination of a yeasted bread and a cake.  It is interesting to note that brioche is actually what Marie Antoinette was referring to when she said, “Let them eat cake.”  Um, yeah.  That didn’t turn out so well for her…

Mardi Gras King Cake is traditionally shaped into a ring,  is iced with a powdered sugar and lemon glaze, and is decorated with sugars in the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple, green, and yellow.  The colors are meant to symbolize: purple for justice, green for faith, gold for power.  Also, the King Cake has a small token in it for the one lucky eater to find.  Traditionally this was a porcelin or gold baby (to symbolize Jesus), or some other figure.  Or it can be dried bean.  Nowadays many people use a tiny plastic baby that they push into the bottom of the cake after it has been baked.  Part of the fun of the King Cake is to see who gets the token.  Whoever gets the token is designated as the King or Queen of the party, and is often then the one who is supposed to bring the cake or throw the Mardi Gras party the next year.

When I was young, I attended a small Catholic girls school that celebrated Ephiphany with a King Cake.  I was the lucky girl who got the token and was designated Queen for the day.  I so vividly remember being given a special crown and being able to wear it all day (we were all wearing uniforms, so being able to wear something different with it was considered super-special).  I loved it and have felt a special fondness for King Cake ever since!

King Cake, Gluten-Free
-makes 1-9 inch cake

Special Equipment Needed
-tube cake pan or Bundt cake pan
-instant read thermometer (this is handy but not necessary)

Note: this recipe uses my gf flour mix, Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix (mix together and store in a cool, dark place):
1 1/4 C (170g) brown rice flour
1 1/4 C (205g) white rice flour
1 C (120g) tapioca flour
1 C (165g) sweet rice flour (also known as Mochiko or glutinous rice flour)
2 scant tsp. xanthan gum


For Cake
4 C Jeanne’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp salt
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 C (1 stick; 4oz; 115g) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C plus 1 TBL granulated sugar
1 extra large egg
4 yolks from extra large eggs
3/4 C water, warm but not hot
2 TBL active dry yeast
1/2 C milk, warm but not hot
1/2 tsp cinnamon (for top of cake)
1 egg mixed with 1 TBL milk (egg wash for top of cake)
1 1″ plastic baby (or a dried bean)
extra butter and tapioca flour for the pan

For Icing
3 C powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, sifted
1/4 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
Extra water as needed (about 1-3 TBL)

For Decoration
Purple, green, and yellow decorating sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour your pan.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, nutmeg, salt, and lemon zest.

In a small bowl, whisk 1 TBL sugar into the warm water until dissolved.  Whisk in yeast until dissolved.  Set aside to proof (get bubbly).

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and 1/2 C sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Add whole egg and 4 egg yolks, and beat about 2 minutes more.

Add flour mixture and warm milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Beat until just combined.  Add yeast mixture a bit at a time, beating after each addition until just combined.  Before you add the yeast mixture, the dough will be very thick.  You need to add the yeast mixture a little at a time to make sure the beating process doesn’t flip the yeast water out of the bowl.  After all of the yeast is incorporated, beat on high for 3 minutes.

Spoon into prepared pan and smooth top.  Sprinkly 1/2 tsp of cinnamon evenly on top.  Set aside to rise until double in bulk (about 1 hr).  I usually set pan on top of my stove to take advantage of the warmth from the preheating oven.

Once the cake has risen to double in bulk, brush top with egg wash.  Place in oven and bake for 25-35 minutes or until the interior registers at least 190 degrees on an instant read thermometer inserted into the middle of the cake or a tester comes out clean.  If the top starts to brown too quickly, loosely tent with aluminum foil towards the end of the baking process.

Remove from oven and remove from pan to a wire rack.  Be very careful–this can be tricky if you have a removable bottom on your tube pan like I do.   If your pan has a removable bottom, remove sides and let cake cool a bit on the wire rack while still in the bottom/middle part of the pan.  When the cake has cooled enough to handle, remove side/middle part and let cake cool further on wire rack.  Once the cake is cooled enough to handle. press the baby or the bean into the cake via a spot on the bottom.

Prepare your icing.  In a large bowl, beat together the sifted confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice.  Add some water, 1 TBL at a time, if it’s too thick.  It should be somewhere between a spreadable thickness and a drizzle-able thickness.  Spread/drizzle the icing over the cake, letting it drip over the sides.  You can use a spatula to move the icing around if you need to.  Let the icing set just a bit, and then sprinkle the colored sugars over the cake in sections.  There should be one section for each color.

Alternately, you can forego the colored sugar and just tint portions of your icing in purple, green, and yellow, and then ice the cake with a section for each color.

The cake is best eaten the day it is baked.  It will store in an airtight container (or plastic wrapping) for a couple of days.


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  1. says

    I myself have only been to NOLA once as well. I LOVED IT SO MUCH!! I am hooked on the Mardi Gras season and cannot wait to go back. In the meantime, I’ve dedicated a whole room in my house to Mardi Gras. It has been so fun decorating it!!

    Anyhow, I am allergic to wheat so now I have to make a gluten free cake. Thanks for this recipe! And have a happy Carnaval season!!!

  2. Sue says

    So as an very immature baker ESP gf, could you please correct both water references to where to use milk! I didn’t realized I missed a step until after the cake was setting and I still had milk on the table. so let’s see what happens! But next time I make this I will remember the milk

    • admin says

      Jo: I don’t really work with guar gum, so I don’t know for sure. But, from what I’ve heard, it would be good to use the same amounts as you would xanthan gum. :)

  3. says

    What a great story! I’d heard about King Cake not that long ago, but didn’t know the story behind it. Interesting. Looks delicious as well. :)


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