Celebrate Mardi Gras in traditional New Orleans style with this easy recipe for king cake that uses refrigerated crescent rolls.
King cakes originated in Europe as a way to celebrate Twelfth Night, or the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three kings traveled to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. The cakes often contained a coin, bean or trinket that represented the baby Jesus. Settlers from France and Spain brought the king cake tradition to the southeastern region of the United States, especially New Orleans, where it is a traditional food of Mardi Gras.
This recipe method is a common one for making filled coffee cakes or Danish pastry rings. Here it is adapted to make an easy king cake for Mardi Gras, with its traditional wide stripes of colored frosting in purple (denoting justice), green (faith), and yellow (power).
Keep this simple method on file for a fast-and-easy filled coffee cake at any time of the year. Simply omit the colored sugar or perhaps use different colors. You also can substitute canned pie filling for the cream cheese filling used here. If you cannot picture the procedure, take a look at these step-by-step photos for making a king cake. It really is that easy.
- 4 ounces (half of a large block) cream cheese
- 1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup raisins (soaked in hot water for 15 minutes, drained and patted dry on paper towels)
- 1/2 cup pecan halves
- 2 cans (total of 16 rolls) refrigerated crescent rolls
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 3 to 4 tablespoons milk (or cream)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Purple, green and yellow colored sugar crystals (or food coloring)
Make the Filling
- Place the cream cheese, brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
- Whiz until combined.
- Add the pecan halves and pulse until the pecans are chopped to about 1/4-inch pieces.
- Set aside.
Make the Cake
- Heat the oven to 350 F. Coat a pizza pan or baking sheet with butter-flavored cooking spray.
- Unroll the crescent roll dough and separate it into triangles.
- Position the triangles next to each other with the points toward the center, overlapping the long sides about 1/4 inch, forming a large round, on the baking sheet. Where the pieces overlap, press the seams together only in the center of each seam, leaving the ends of the seams unsealed so you can fold them up over the filling.
- Spread the filling around in a ring covering the center sealed seam of each triangle.
- Place a small ceramic or heatproof plastic baby or dried bean somewhere in the filling. (The person who gets this piece will have good luck for the year.)
- Fold the wide end of each triangle toward the center just to the edge of the filling to cover.
- Pull the pointed ends of the triangles toward the outer rim of the pan to fully enclose the filling, tucking under the points. Lightly press the seams.
- Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
Make the Frosting
- Whisk together the powdered sugar, milk or cream and vanilla until smooth. The consistency should be fairly thick but still thin enough to slowly drip down the sides. Add more milk as necessary.
- Spoon the frosting in a circle over the top of the king cake and allow it to slowly drip down the sides.
- To decorate for Mardi Gras, sprinkle wide stripes of purple-, green- and yellow-colored sugar crystals.
If You're Using Food Coloring
- Whisk together frosting as described above.
- Divide the frosting evenly among three bowls.
- Add two drops each of red and blue food coloring to the first bowl to make purple. Use two drops each of yellow and green in the remaining two bowls.
- Scrape each individual bowl of frosting into its own ziptop bag. Squeeze out all the air and seal.
- Snip off one corner of the bag and use as a pastry bag to pipe wide stripes of frosting onto the king cake. The bags will give you more control than using a spoon or spatula.
- The frosting should firm up a bit in about an hour.
Canned pie fillings can be substituted for the cream cheese filling for an authentically filled coffee cake. Use standard- or over-size crescent rolls.