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What is King Cake and Why is It Popular at Mardi Gras?

February 1, 2010

King Cake

King Cake is a centuries old tradition associated with pre-Lent festivities and celebrations.  The name of the cake refers to the three kings who visited the baby Jesus in Bethlehem—the day many refer to as Epiphany.  Some say that the cakes have roots in tribal rituals in Europe before Christianity spread to the area.  Regardless of this, the tradition is now firmly a Christian one.

The cake, dating back to 12th century France, was eaten on the day known as Feast of Epiphany or Twelfth Night.   King Cake is most often oval shaped.  A ceramic or plastic baby representing the baby Jesus is baked into the cake.  French settlers brought this tradition to Louisiana in the 18th century.  The first of the cakes is served on Epiphany – a day of celebration and joy.  Whoever finds the baby in the cake is obligated to host a party the next week and supply the cake with the baby hidden inside.  These parties continue every week until Mardi Gras (also known as Shrove Tuesday).  In addition to symbolizing the baby Jesus, the hidden baby in the cake signifies the difficulty the three kings had in locating the Christ child as well as the precious gifts they brought Him.

Traditional King Cake is not difficult to make and can become a fun and memorable family activity.  A very good and traditional recipe can be found here.  It is a favorite of school children and if serving many kids in a classroom setting or at a party, you can put several babies in the cake.  The usual slice is approximately three inches wide so if you place a baby every three inches in the cake(s), no one will be left out when it comes to finding the baby Jesus!  Alternatively, there are even simpler recipes to use at home when baking this delicious cake with young children.  Below is one I received from my mother and have used every year with my children.


1 16oz can of refrigerated biscuits (not the layered type; regular large ones)

¼ C. melted butter

¼ C. sugar

1 T.  cinnamon

Yellow, purple, and green sugar sprinkles (the colors of Mardi Gras)

Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Grease the bottom of a cookie sheet.  Press the dough onto the cookie sheet into a large circle.  Brush melted butter evenly over the top of the circle.  Mix sugar (not the colored sprinkles) and cinnamon together, sprinkle evenly over the melted butter.  Lay the baby (or babies) somewhere on the dough.  Roll the dough into a cylinder and pinch the ends tightly to seal them.  Shape into a round, doughnut shape and pinch the ends together.  Bake the round for 35 minutes.  Let it cool slightly, but not too long.  Sprinkle the yellow, purple, and green sugar sprinkles over the top.  You can do this in a pattern or mix them all up.

The cake can be served up right away or will also keep if tightly covered for a couple of days.  This time can be used to instruct children regarding the significance of Epiphany and other activities leading up to Lent.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2010 6:35 pm

    I didn’t know they did this at Mardi Gras!? Hmmm very interesthing.

    Guess what? In Mexico there is a very similar tradition. The cake is baked differently but they also put little figures (representing Jesus) and yes, whoever finds them does the next party.

    Unfortunately in Mexico, this is considered a Catholic tradition and not practiced by Christians. Like religion always does, it has taken something that can be used to glorify and bring honor to his name into a another tradition used just with his name on it.

    • February 2, 2010 7:51 pm

      Yes, it is sad how the man/religion can rob the church (body of Christ) of earthly ways to remember Him and glorify Him. I bake this every weekend with my kids before Lent and they absolutely love finding the baby Jesus inside. Seeing the joy on their little faces brings tears of joy to me. Thanks for stopping by.

      By the way, the recipe is really easy. You should try it!

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