California style king cake recipe

A California-Inspired King Cake Recipe

If the idea of making a New Orleans-inspired king cake feels intimidating, just think of this as a giant cinnamon roll. A large cinnamon roll full of cream cheese, pecans or walnuts and California prunes (naturally), rolled into one large circle instead of individual portions, baked until deep golden brown and topped with a whipped mascarpone spread. This California-inspired King Cake recipe is sure to win hearts – and fans.

sliced king cake with cinnamon filling

What is the history of the King Cake? Why does the cake contain a baby or bean?

The King Cake is the unofficial dessert of Mardi Gras or Carnival season.

Mardi Gras season officially begins on January 6th or the “Twelfth Night,” also known as the “Epiphany.” Epiphany comes from a Greek word that means “to show.” It is said that the Three Wise Men saw baby Jesus on this day. As a symbol of the Epiphany, a tiny trinket (like a plastic baby or bean) is hidden inside each King Cake. Each person looks to see if their slice of cake contains the “baby.” If so, that person is the “King” for a day. The King will also host the next party and provide the next King Cake! Mardi Gras ends on Shrove Tuesday (also called “Fat Tuesday”) which is always the day before Ash Wednesday.

whole baked king cake recipe with icing and colored sugar

What do ingredients do you need for this King Cake recipe?

  • active dry yeast
  • sugar
  • whole milk
  • brown sugar
  • vanilla extract
  • orange blossom water
  • 1eggs
  • all purpose flour
  • kosher salt
  • unsalted butter
  • cream cheese
  • California prune puree
  • cane syrup or maple syrup
  • cinnamon
  • orange
  • chopped pecans or walnuts
  • whipping cream
  • powdered sugar
  • mascarpone cheese
  • green, purple, and yellow sanding sugars for garnish

The addition of prune puree, pecans or walnuts and citrus (did you know California grows over 80% of fresh citrus in the U.S.? It’s true!) gives this King Cake recipe a California vibe, while still being true to the original.

Why does King Cake have purple, green and gold sugar on top?

Any decent King Cake recipe calls for purple, green and gold or yellow sanding sugar, icing or sprinkles. Each of the “royal colors” has a specific meaning. Purple stands for justice, green is for faith, and gold represents power. These colors are also universally associated with Mardi Gras celebrations.

Why does King Cake have a hole in the middle?

The King Cake represents a crown – like the crowns of the Three Kings, who the cake honors. That’s why King Cakes always have a hole in the center, and why the dough is sometimes braided too.

What is the traditional King Cake flavor?

The most traditional flavor for a King Cake recipe is a sweet dough full of sweet cinnamon filling, sometimes with nuts or fruit too. King Cakes almost always have icing or cream cheese frosting with purple, green and gold sugar for decoration. Chocolate and cream cheese King Cakes are also common.

What should you serve with this King Cake recipe?

Well, since a King Cake is really a blend of a coffee cake and a cinnamon roll, coffee is an obvious choice. King Cake can also be served with tea, cocktails or any other beverage or pairing of your choice. Just make sure everyone receiving a slice looks for the baby or bean!

whole California style king cake recipe with beads and ingredients

California-Inspired King Cake Recipe

James Collier
If the idea of making a New Orleans-inspired king cake feels intimidating, just think of this a giant cinnamon roll…filled with cream cheese and pecans and California prunes (naturally), then rolled into one large circle instead of sliced into individual portions before being baked until deep golden brown and topped with a whipped mascarpone spread.
5 from 4 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Resting Time 3 hours
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Holiday
Servings 10 servings
Calories 713 kcal


  • 1 Stand Mixer
  • 1 Food processor optional


King Cake Dough

  • 1 ¼- oz package active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 2 TBSP light brown sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 2 ¾ cups all purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp kosher salt
  • 8 TBSP unsalted butter softened

Cream Cheese & Prune Filling

  • 1 8- oz cream cheese
  • 1 cup California prune puree
  • ½ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 TBSP cane syrup or substitute with maple syrup
  • 1 TBSP ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 orange zested
  • ¾ cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Mascarpone Topping

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 8- oz mascarpone cheese
  • green, purple, and gold/yellow sanding sugars for garnish


Step 1: Make the Dough

  • In the bowl of your stand mixer, quickly whisk together the yeast and ½ tsp of the sugar, with ¼ cup of water heated to 115°F (45°C). Once combined, let sit until foaming, about 10 minutes. To the bowl, and the remaining sugar, whole milk, light brown sugar, vanilla extract, orange blossom water, egg, and egg yolk.
    king cake dough
  • Using a bread hook attachment, beat the mixture on low speed for 1 minute to combine everything. With the mixer off, sift in the flour and salt, then turn the mixer to high speed and knead the dough for 4 minutes. Add the butter in large chunks, then continue kneading another 5-6 minutes, until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If it still feels sticky, add additional flour, 1 TBSP at a time, until it pulls cleanly from the bowl.
  • Remove bowl from the mixer, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit in a warm spot in the kitchen until doubled in size, 1 ½-2 hours.

Step 2: Make the Cream Cheese & Prune Filling

  • In a food processor or large bowl, combine the cream cheese, California prune puree, dark brown sugar, cane syrup, cinnamon, salt, and orange zest. Pulse or whisk until combined, then set aside, along with the chopped pecans.
    a layer of filling for a king cake recipe

Step 3: Form the Cake

  • Punch down the dough, peel it from the bowl, and turn it out onto a heavily-floured surface. Flour a rolling pin and spread the dough into a large rectangle, roughly 18-20 inches wide, 12 inches deep, and ¼-inch thick throughout. Use an offset spatula to spread the prune filling evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch margin along the longer edges. Sprinkle the chopped pecans over the filling.
  • Starting with the long edge closest to you, gently roll the dough away from you, like you’re creating one long cinnamon roll. Once the roll is formed, bring the ends together to form a circle, overlapping one end over the other to create a seal. (It’s okay if this doesn’t look perfect!). Transfer the formed cake to a parchment-lined sheet tray, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 1 hour.
    king cake recipe ready for the oven
  • While the dough rests, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
    Uncover the cake and bake until dark golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. If you worry it’s getting too much color, tent the cake with aluminum foil. For a precise bake, use a probe thermometer to ensure the inner dough cooks to 190°F (90°C).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Step 4: Mascarpone Topping

  • Place the mixer bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes. Once cold, add in the whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. Beat with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks have formed, then gently fold into the mascarpone.
    California style king cake recipe
  • Once the cake has cooled, dollop large spoonfuls of the whipped topping over the top and spread into a uniform layer. Decorate with the sanding sugars for a colorful finish, then serve!


1 King Cake serves 8-10, but New Orleans locals consider a cake 1 portion until you cut it!


Calories: 713kcalCarbohydrates: 70gProtein: 11gFat: 45gSaturated Fat: 24gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0.4gCholesterol: 104mgSodium: 404mgPotassium: 356mgFiber: 5gSugar: 35gVitamin A: 1522IUVitamin C: 7mgCalcium: 138mgIron: 2mg
Keyword cake, coffee cake
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Hola Jalapeno Whole Wheat Banana Protein Pancakes with Spiced Prune Syrup

What is Shrove Tuesday?

Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent on Ash Wednesday. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter, and is traditionally a time of fasting for many Christians.

Shrove Tuesday is also known as Fat Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday or Pancake Day, and is the last day Mardi Gras of Mardi Gras celebrations. Shrove Tuesday was the last opportunity to use up eggs and fats before embarking on the Lenten fast. Ultimately, Fat Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday is the day to engage in “heavy eating” – or fattening up – before Lent.

Whether you’re fasting or not, our friend Kate’s Whole Wheat Banana Protein Pancakes with Spiced Prune Syrup is a fabulous breakfast!