Carnival season in New Orleans means it’s time to bake up a King Cake for Mardi Gras! This Gluten-Free King Cake recipe is vegan, allergy-free, lightened-up, and low in sugar! A rich brioche-style cake ring with a sweet, buttery filling, decorated with icing and bold colored sugar crystals! A classic Fat Tuesday dessert everyone will love!
Mardi Gras always sneaks up on me every year and I never end up getting around to creating a gluten-free king cake recipe! Not this year! I’ve had this recipe planned to test out since I dropped the ball last year. King cake is full of rich culture and contrary to what you may think, not an exclusive treat to just New Orleans. King cake is a broad term that many cultures use for the cake that celebrates the end of the Christmas season and/or pre-Lenten festivities. However, if you’re from the United States, that iconic purple, green, and gold sugary sparkle automatically bring to mind Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras!
What is king cake all about?
A king cake is not exclusive to New Orleans and Mardi Gras celebrations. It’s associated with a number of countries celebrations of Epiphany, marking the end of the Christmas season. Other countries, like the United States, bake this type of cake to mark the pre-Lenten season (Carnival season) between January 6th (King’s Day) and ending on Fat Tuesday (which falls on the first Tuesday in March). Generally, celebrations of Mardi Gras begin on February 28th in New Orleans. The king cake is made as a confection to celebrate this season, bringing families and communities together in the search for “the baby”, celebrating their Christian faith. Yes, there is a tiny figurine, typically a plastic baby (Jesus) or a fava bean placed somewhere in the cake. The person who finds the baby or figurine in their slice of cake is supposedly granted luck and prosperity in the year (and they’re responsible for buying or making the king cake for next year’s celebration!)
How do you make a king cake for Mardi Gras?
King cake is essentially a sweet, rich, buttery, brioche-style cake. There’s yeast, butter, and sugar. The dough is typically twisted in a fancy braided form, shaped as a ring, or baked as a bundt. The cake has a filling which varies but starts with butter or cream cheese, brown sugar, cinnamon or nutmeg, possibly dried fruit like raisins or cherries, and nuts like pecans or almonds (sometimes you’ll even find chocolate!). The cake is decorated, boldy, with a simple icing glaze and the iconic purple, green, and gold/yellow sugar crystals. It’s a bit of a process, but well worth the time and effort!
What does king cake taste like?
That will depend on your filling, but the dough is like a rich and dense yeasty bread, sweet and buttery. The filling is reminiscent of a cinnamon roll. The buttery brown sugar and cinnamon, oozing throughout the layers of the cake. A king cake basically is a cinnamon roll, just one single massive cinnamon roll…with colorful sugar crystals! Yeast dough, cinnamon filling, the icing on the outside = cinnamon roll!
How to do form a king cake?
Since this cake is using a yeast dough, you need to let the dough rise for an hour before rolling it out. After to roll it out (about the size of a baking sheet) to 1/4 inch thickness, spread the filling on the rolled out dough, then carefully take one edge of the dough and begin rolling it up like a cinnamon roll, using a Silpat, plastic wrap, or parchment paper you rolled the dough out on to help (like sushi). Ending with the seam-side down, take the being long roll and form a ring, pinching together the two ends and best you can. Of course, you can do fancier rolling or just baking it in a bundt, that’s all up to you, but be aware that cooking time will vary.
How do you make a gluten-free king cake that’s vegan and allergy-free?
With a few simple tweaks and swaps, you can still make a delicious king cake for Mardi Gras that everyone can enjoy, even with food allergies! To make this gluten-free king cake, the dough is a combination of 1 to 1 gluten-free flour, yeast, water, erythritol (or sugar if that’s your thing), a pinch of salt, egg replacements, and vegan butter. The filling is a combination of brown sugar erythritol (or real brown sugar), vegan butter (or cream cheese!), cinnamon, and vanilla extract. You can customize by adding other spices, dried fruits, etc. This king cake is nut-free so no pecans or almonds here! The outside icing is just powdered erythritol (or real powdered sugar) and water, just enough to keep it thick but drizzle-able! Then comes the sugar crystals. Just sugar and natural color. I used plain sugar crystals and dyed them myself with natural food color!
How do you hide the baby in a king cake?
You don’t have to do this, but if you want to play along, I’m a full supporter of baby-in-cake! Do NOT bake the cake with the baby in it! That would lead to an inedible cake! Once the cake is baked and before you decorate it with the icing and sugar crystals, tuck the baby, figurine, or large bean somewhere int he still warm dough. You can easily hide the spot the contains the baby by covering it with the icing and generous dosing of sugar crystals! Many commercial bakeries stopped doing this due to “choking” liabilities, but if you don’t’ have a child eating this cake, it’s pretty obvious when you find a hard plastic baby in your slice (less so with a bean)! I have memories of this with my own family when, one year, we did the whole king cake celebration (a Polish version), but and we could not find the baby in the any of the slices we cut (it was a big cake)! My aunt ended up taking a knife and stabbing the cake to death trying to find the baby. She did find it…many laughs ensued!
New Orleans Gluten-Free King Cake
- Cake Dough:
- 3 Cups 1-to-1 Gluten-Free Baking Flour
- 1 Packet (2.5 tsp) Gluten-Free Active Dry Yeast
- 1 Cup Warm Water
- ¼ Cup Granulated Erythritol (or preferred granulated sweetener)
- ½ Tsp Salt
- 2 Prepared Bob's Red Mill Egg Replacements
- ¼ Cup (4 TB) Vegan/Soy-Free Butter (softened)
- Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk (set aside, for brushing cake)
- Cake Filling:
- ¾ Cup Brown Sugar Erythritol (or preferred brown sugar sweetener)
- ½ Tsp Cinnamon
- ½ Tsp Pure Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract
- ¼ Cup Vegan/Soy-Free Butter (softened) OR ½ Cup Vegan/Soy-Free Plain Cream Cheese
- ¼ Tsp Ground Nutmeg (optional)
- ¼ Cup Raisins (optional)
- Simple Icing:
- 1 to 2 Cups Powdered Erythritol (or preferred powdered sweetener)
- Water (to desired consistency)
- Colored Sugar Crystals:
- Plain White Sugar Crystals*
- Natural Food Dyes (Purple, Green, Yellow)
- Mix the yeast, granulated sweetener, salt, and warm water together in a bowl and let proof for 5 minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, proofed yeast, prepared egg replacements, and softened butter together. Mix well and knead with hands. Set aside, covered, to rise for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Prepare the cake filling my mixing all the filling ingredients together and chilling until the dough is ready.
- Once the dough has risen (it won't rise a lot), roll the dough out on a Silpat mat, plastic wrap, or parchment paper to about ¼ inch thickness in the shape of a large rectangle.
- Spread the filling over the rolled out dough, leaving the edges of the dough free from filling.
- Next, roll the dough like a cinnamon roll, starting with one edge and using the mat to help keep the roll together.
- Take the long roll and carefully form a ring, closing the cake ring together as best you can with your hands.
- With the formed cake on the Silpat or parchment paper, place it onto a baking sheet, brush the ring with the milk) and then bake the cake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
- Remove the cake and allow it to cool while you prepare the icing and sugar crystals.
- Mix together the powdered sweetener with water, adding water slowly to get a thick icing consistency.
- Mic the plain sugar crystals with the food dyes to create your colored sugar if using plain crystals.
- With the baked cake transferred to a wire rack, pour or drizzle on the icing and then sprinkle on the colored sugar crystals. Get messy and have fun with bold decorations! (If you're hiding the baby in the cake, do it before icing!)
Let the Carnival season begin! Slice up your king cake, and cross your fingers that you’ll be the luck baby recipient! If you’re looking for a plastic baby, Amazon has you covered! As long as it’s gluten-free, eh? Mardi Gras is all about bold, fun, crazy decorations and celebrating, so this messy and delicious gluten-free king cake is just the thing you need, along with the wacky baby hiding!
So tell me:
+ Does your family celebrate with a king cake (with baby)?
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