King Cake With Cream Cheese Dough

January  6, 2022
4 Ratings
Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • Makes 1 large twisted cake
Author Notes

How to explain a king cake to the uninitiated? Think of it as a giant cinnamon roll housing a tiny, plastic baby Jesus—stay with me—that’s twisted or braided into a circle, covered in icing, and liberally sprinkled with purple, green, and gold sugar.

This year, my second year away from the glittery hubbub, I decided it was time to make my own. I knew I wanted to stay in a traditional vein, but I wanted to experiment with putting cream cheese in the dough rather than as the filling.

As a nod to Galette des Rois (the traditional king cake of Northern France), I filled it with frangipane plus a dash of cocoa powder for a little oomph. And, because you can’t taste the cream cheese in the dough, I finished it with a cream cheese glaze. The result is rich and decadent, without smashing you over the head. —Kaitlin Bray

Test Kitchen Notes

Making a traditional king cake recipe is done all throughout the world to celebrate Epiphany, or "Three Kings Day." In the South, king cake is usually enjoyed during Mardi Gras. Considering it's more likely you'll be celebrating Mardi Gras at home rather than New Orleans, it's the perfect excuse to make king cake at home. Your friends and family will love this colorful, delicious dessert. You'll find so many different versions of king cake, depending on which country you're in and what family traditions and secrets have been shared throughout generations. This one requires a homemade dough, but the texture comes out perfectly due to the addition of cream cheese. Keep in mind that the dough does take about an hour and a half to rise, but you can make the filling during that time.

Also, don't be intimidated when forming the cake. Just a simple twisting motion, then bringing the two ends together to form a circle, is all it takes to get that classic shape. Purple, green, and gold colored sugars gives the cake that festive final touch. And of course, don't forget the baby! As Kaitlin Bray, who developed this recipe, says: "Feel free to use whatever filling is calling your name. A traditional cinnamon filling, or jam, or something more decadent (like bourbon pecan) would be quite at home in this dough. For melting plastic safety reasons, tuck the baby into the king cake after removing it from the oven. And the rules state: Whoever gets the baby is responsible for providing the next king cake." —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Dough:
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (5 grams) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) plus ¼ teaspoon sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter (1 stick), room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks (save the whites for the egg wash)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 1/2 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Filling, Glaze & Assembly:
  • 7 ounces almond paste (1 tube)
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter, room temperature, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups (171 grams) powdered sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Purple, green, and gold colored sugars, for sprinkling
  • Plastic baby
  1. Dough:
  2. In a small bowl, mix the yeast, ¼ teaspoon sugar, and ¼ cup warm (100°F to 110°F) water.
  3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cream cheese (the cream cheese won't fully melt, but that's okay). Remove from the heat and add the egg yolks, milk, vanilla, and yeast mixture.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, salt, and remaining ½ cup of the sugar. Add the egg yolk mixture all at once and mix for about 5 minutes, until a smooth, elastic ball forms.
  5. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise for 1½ hours.
  1. Filling, Glaze & Assembly:
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the almond paste, egg, flour, cocoa powder, 4 tablespoons of the butter, and ½ cup of the powdered sugar until combined.
  3. Once dough has risen, punch it down and divide into 2 equal pieces. Roll 1 piece of dough into a rectangle 18 to 20 inches long and 6 to 8 inches wide.
  4. Spread with half of the filling and roll up (cinnamon roll-style), starting with the long end of the dough.
  5. Repeat with the second piece of dough and the remaining filling. You'll have 2 rolled ropes of dough. Press and roll each dough out another 2 inches or so to even the thickness of the strands; close the seams.
  6. Line the ropes of dough up and, starting from the center, make a basic twist until all the dough is twisted. Bring the beginning and end of the twist together to seal into a circle.
  7. Place a rack in the center of the oven; heat to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the cake on top. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
  8. Brush the cake lightly with the egg wash made from beating the remaining 2 egg whites. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should register 190°F). Let cool completely.
  9. In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed (or by. hand), beat the cream cheese, milk, vanilla, and remaining 4 tablespoons of the butter and 1 cup of the powdered sugar until well combined and smooth.
  10. Spread the glaze over the cooled cake. Sprinkle with the purple, yellow, and green colored sugar. Hide the baby inside.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Leil
  • Allyn
  • Kaitlin Bray
    Kaitlin Bray
Kaitlin Bray

Recipe by: Kaitlin Bray

My desert island ingredients are salt, olive oil, and lemon.

9 Reviews March 1, 2022
Have baked King Cakes for the past ten years or so and without a doubt this was the best dough I have encountered. To be candid, it felt velvety in the mouth. Aside from adding a smidge of salt to the glaze I prepared it exactly as written and while eager to experiment with a different recipe involving sautéed apples, will stick with this dough until another proves more worthy of the effort.
tarajoan25 February 14, 2022
I decided to make a King Cake for a Super Bowl party to accompany my annual Super Bowl gumbo. I opted for this recipe after reading other reviews and I don’t have one single regret. I did add 4 oz. Of softened cream cheese to the almond paste mixture. After spreading the almond mix on the dough, I spread a jar (divided evenly over the two rolls) of cherry preserves. I also let the cake rise a second time before baking. It was delicious!! The filling was so yummy and the cake was definitely a party hit.
maria February 21, 2021
Great recipe! The dough is so nice to work with. Very Happy with the results. This was my first time making King Cake. Actually pretty easy. I'll make it again and play with some variations!!
Darian February 24, 2020
This was my first time making a King Cake from scratch, and I was very pleased with the process and outcome! The dough was very easy to work with. My (French) husband paid the highest compliment when he remarked it tasted exactly like those he had in France as a child! We haven't found the baby yet...guess we'll have to keep eating!
Ana February 9, 2019
This is the best king cake recipe I have ever made. The dough is wonderful and was a dream to work with. I think that activating the yeast before mixing it in to the other ingredients was a great idea. I chose to stick with the filling recommended in the recipe and am so happy that I did. The flavors were excellent and the resulting layering was beautiful. Thanks for sharing!
Leil February 28, 2017
I made this yesterday and it looked like everything was perfect. Was all tall and puffy as it came out of the oven and smelled amazing. But then it fell and so it is flat. Is that normal? I guess i should say I am at about 6000 foot altitude, which probably has an impact. It was disappointing it fell! I'm sure it will still taste good (it is going to an event so I didn't taste it yet).
Lori T. February 28, 2017
Yes, your altitude is most likely the culprit in the collapse. At high altitudes, the gas produced by the yeast can cause over-rising. So you will need to cut back on the amount of yeast you use and stop the rise at just over a 1/3 increase rather than doubling. For this recipe, that might also mean less of a rest time before baking, perhaps limited to 15-20 minutes rather than the half hour. You might also want to check the taste and condition of your cake before taking it. When yeast bake goods collapse the result is usually heavy and gummy to eat.
Allyn February 27, 2017
I made this yesterday, though I used the filling recipe from Joy the Baker's cinnamon roll king cake. I am now fully obsessed with this dough and will be experimenting with multiple ways to use it. SO GOOD. Everyone loved it and was, by far, the best king cake I've had in years.
Kaitlin B. February 28, 2017
I am so happy to hear that—and I would love to hear what else you make with the cream cheese dough! Happy Mardi Gras!