How to Make a Sourdough King Cake for Mardi Gras

by Kaitlynn Fenley

This sourdough king cake is easier to make than you think! It’s the perfect New Orleans style cake to celebrate Mardi Gras. Making king cake with a sourdough starter results in the best moist and flavorful sweet treat for carnival season.

Easy Sourdough King Cake Recipe

Here is what you will need to make this recipe:

  • Sourdough Starter
  • Organic bread flour
  • Water
  • Butter
  • Organic Eggs
  • Organic sugar
  • Molasses
  • Sea Salt
  • vanilla
  • sprinkles (I also used a few crushed up yellow chocolate candies, lavender flowers, some turmeric and some spirulina for color)
  • Organic powdered sugar
  • whole milk

The main thing I want to note about these ingredients is about molasses. I like to use half sugar, half molasses in my king cake dough because I like the flavor, and I like the minerals molasses adds to the dough.

Also, I want to talk about the royal icing. I highly recommend using whole dairy milk to make royal icing. I’ve tried royal icing with plant based milk many times, and it just never works for me.

What is King Cake?

King cake is very similar to a cinnamon roll, just shaped and decorated differently. King cake is usually a brioche or sweet roll dough is braided, baked in a circle and decorated with icing and purple, green and gold sugars. Traditional king cake flavor is cinnamon, but you can decorate and flavor a king cake however you’d like. King cakes also come in many flavors with different types of filling.

Traditional New Orleans King Cake Recipe

Traditionally we make king cake with commercial packaged yeast, but I prefer to make mine with sourdough starter for nutritional benefits. The first time I made a sourdough king cake at home, I just adapted my cinnamon roll recipe to make the cake, but I rushed the dough, baked too soon, and it came out a bit dry and dense. 

The second time, it was to-die-for delicious! It was better than any store-bought king cake I’ve ever had, braided beautifully, risen perfectly, with naturally dyed sprinkles. We ate it with so much pleasure, and I wrote a note on my calendar to share the recipe next Mardi Gras—this Mardi Gras. 

So I baked a king cake this year, and it came out beautiful. The only thing I wish I would have done differently is the icing. I used the plant based milk we had on hand to make the royal icing… this is not ideal and it did not harden like royal icing should; I should have used real milk. It still turned out beautiful, but the icing didn’t stay that way for long.

What is King Cake Tradition?

According to the Manny Randazzo King Cake website (one of the best king cake makers in Louisiana) the French brought the King Cake to New Orleans from France in 1870. At a party, someone slices the King Cake and serves it. While eating the cake, everyone looks to see if their piece of king cake contains the “baby.” The person who has the baby is named “King” for a day and bound by custom to host the next party and provide the King Cake. In the past such things as coins, beans, pecans, or peas were hidden in each King Cake as the baby.

King cakes are traditionally decorated with purple to represent justice, green to represent faith, and gold to represent power. These colors were chosen to resemble a jeweled crown honoring the Three Wise Men who visited the Christ Child on Epiphany.

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How to Make a Sourdough King Cake for Mardi Gras

This sourdough king cake is easier to make than you think! It’s the perfect New Orleans style cake to celebrate Mardi Gras. Making king cake with a sourdough starter results in the best moist and flavorful sweet treat for carnival season. 

  • Author: Kaitlynn Fenley
  • Prep Time: 4 hours
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours 40 minutes
  • Yield: 12 servings 1x
  • Category: dessert
  • Method: fermentation
  • Cuisine: Louisiana

Ingredients

Scale

Cake dough

  • 300 grams warm water
  • 200 grams active sourdough starter
  • 20 grams organic molasses
  • 20 grams organic sugar
  • 2 organic eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 12 grams sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 650 grams organic bread flour

Cinnamon Filling

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons cinnamon

Toppings

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • purple, gold and green sprinkles and/or other toppings

Instructions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix all of the wet dough ingredients plus the sugar together first, then add in the flour. Mix and knead until smooth.
  2. allow the dough to rest for one hour.
  3. Allow the dough to rise at room temperature (about 78° F) covered for 4 hours. 
  4. During the rise time, stretch and fold the dough three times (about once an hour). Using wet hands, stretch up the bottom of the dough, without breaking it, and fold over the top of the dough. Stretch and fold the side over side, then top over bottom. As you do this you’ll notice there is more resistance stretching the dough. 
  5. After the rise time, remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a well-floured surface. Gently pull out the dough until it is a large rectangular shape. Be gentle you want the dough to still have some fluff to it. the rectangle should be about 15×10 inches.
  6. Prepare the cinnamon filling by mixing together the butter sugar and cinnamon.
  7. Evenly sprinkle the sugar mixture over the dough. 
  8. Roll up the dough along the longer side of the rectangle into a long log shape.
  9. Shaping option 1: Once it is rolled up you can attach the ends of the dough to form the dough into a circle.
  10. Shaping option 2: Cut the rolled up dough in half long ways and twist the two pieces around each other. Then attach the ends of the dough to form a circle. 
  11. Let the shaped dough rise for 1 hour.
  12. Preheat the oven to 375° F, and bake for 40 minutes until the cake is golden brown.
  13. Allow the cake to cool for about a hour. It should be cool to the touch before icing it. 
  14. Mix the royal icing together (1 cup of powdered sugar + 2 tablespoons whole milk), and spread it over the top of the cake. While the icing is still wet, add the sprinkles. 
  15. Enjoy with a glass of milk!

Notes

  • You can evenly substitute eggs and butter for vegan options.
  • The icing does not work with plant based milk. For an vegan icing option, you will need to look one up that uses starch. 

Keywords: king cake, sourdough

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