When I first wrote about the Mardi Gras king cake tradition here on Good. Food. Stories., it was in the context of a Super Bowl party menu for the New Orleans Saints—a party where dozens of people would be taking wedges of king cake all night, leaving me without leftovers.
It’s not that I need an excuse like the Super Bowl to bake a king cake every year—for an enabler like me, waking up in the morning is a good enough reason to make, bake, and eat dessert.
The problem is that I don’t really want to eat an entire king cake, as tempting as the thought may be. About halfway through, the law of diminishing returns hits—and it hits hard, leaving me with a hacked-up half-ring of sugary pastry.
I take to nibbling on stale bits at breakfast, but the trash always gets it in the end.
Hence, mini king cake blobs were born. You can call them king cake doughnuts, as I do, or king cake rolls, since they also resemble very sugary, cheese danish-y Parker House rolls.
The point, however, is that you can eat just one if you’re so inclined. Then you can give the rest away to happy neighbors and co-workers.
And the good luck baby rule can still apply to king cake doughnuts. Put a charm in one, or play with fate and put a charm in each mini cake if you’re giving them away to friends and family. Everyone wins!
If you’ve ever made cinnamon rolls, the technique of spreading filling across a yeasted dough and rolling it up into a spiral log will be very familiar.
Instead of cutting the dough into small pieces and placing them in a pan, you’ll be working with longer pieces and twisting them into mini rings.
It’s a bit messy, sure, but the reward of having your own personal king cake with breakfast (or lunch, or a late-night snack) makes the act of wrangling dough for 5 minutes not a bad trade in the end.
Hit play on the most jubilant Professor Longhair song below and you’ll get a sense of how happy these king cake doughnuts make me.
Even better, imagine me dancing around my kitchen with a single, solitary king cake in hand, letting those bon temps rouler—it’s pretty easy to get the picture.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup (8 ounces; 227 grams) sour cream
- 1/4 cup milk (any fat percentage) or water
- 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces; 50 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cups (12 3/4 ounces; 360 grams) bread flour + an additional 1/2 cup (2 1/8 ounces; 60 grams) if necessary
- 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 large egg
- nonstick baking spray for greasing the bowl
Cream Cheese Filling
- 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup (4 ounces; 113 grams) confectioners sugar
- 2 tablespoons (15 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1-2 tablespoons milk, any fat percentage
- 2 cups (8 ounces; 227 grams) confectioners sugar
- 2 tablespoons bourbon or maple whiskey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2-3 tablespoons milk
- Purple, green, and yellow finishing sugars or food coloring
Make the cake dough:
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat.
- Add the sour cream, milk or water, sugar, and salt, stirring until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Set aside to cool.
- Whisk 3 cups bread flour with the yeast, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl.
- Transfer the sour cream batter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat the egg into the batter on low speed.
- Add the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time until a sticky dough forms. If it's particularly wet, add the reserved extra 1/2 cup flour—you may not need it.
- Replace the paddle with the dough hook and knead on low for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. It will still be very soft and a touch sticky, but not overly wet.
- Spritz a clean bowl with the nonstick baking spray.
- Remove the dough from the mixer, shape into a ball, and toss gently in the bowl until all sides of the dough ball are greased.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for an hour or until doubled in bulk.
Make the cream cheese filling:
- Beat the cream cheese, powdered sugar, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla with an electric mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until no lumps of cream cheese remain.
- Add the milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the filling is soft and spreadable.
Form and bake the doughnuts:
- Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
- When the dough has doubled in bulk, turn it out onto a floured surface. Punch the dough down and roll it out into a 24-by-12-inch rectangle.
- Spread the cream cheese filling evenly over the dough.
- Starting with one of the long ends of the dough, carefully roll it up into a log. The dough will stretch a few inches to a log that's 28 to 32 inches long.
- Cut the dough into 4-inch lengths with a bench scraper or chef's knife.
- Carefully bring the ends of each piece together to make a small ring: some of the cream cheese filling will squoosh out, but press the seams of each end together to seal the round.
- Place each round on the prepared baking sheets.
- Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk once more, about a half hour.
- While the cakes rise, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.
Make the glaze:
- Whisk the sugar, bourbon, and vanilla together into a smooth paste.
- Slowly whisk in the milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the glaze is liquid enough to drizzle from the whisk (you may need as little as 1 tablespoon).
- If you're using food coloring, divide the glaze evenly among three small bowls. Add lavender, yellow, and green food coloring a few drops at a time until you've reached your desired intensity.
- If you're using finishing sugars, the glaze is ready to go on the cake.
Glaze the cake:
- Lift the baked cake and parchment paper onto a rack and cool for 10 minutes.
- NOTE: It's a good-luck tradition to insert a small plastic baby, a large dried bean, or a pecan in the cake for one lucky recipient to discover in his/her piece. If you're going to do it, stuff it up somewhere through the bottom of the cake now. And warn your guests before they chomp down.
- If you're using the three food-colored glazes, drizzle and brush each band thickly onto the cake to create a pattern.
- If you're using colored finishing sugars, brush the glaze evenly over the cake, then sprinkle bands of alternating colored sugars.
- Let the glaze harden before slicing and serving.
Doughnuts will last up to 1 week in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
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