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This traditional Mardi Gras King Cake recipe has a brown sugar pecan filling. This recipe is vegan and so is also dairy free and egg free. Make it for your Mardi Gras celebration or to share with friends and co-workers. Whoever finds the baby has good luck for a year AND gets to make the King Cake next year!
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What is a King Cake and What Does it Have to do with Mardi Gras?
When you think of Mardi Gras you probably think of New Orleans and crazy reveling in the streets, colorful beads tossed for….reasons, parades, drinking, and basically one big indulgent party. Well, you wouldn’t be totally wrong! Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday” – the day before Ash Wednesday- is the day a person tries to live it up before 40 days of Lent starts. Think of it this way, Fat Tuesday is to “let the good times roll” before you have to give it all up! The King Cake is a traditional symbol of Mardi Gras.
This traditionally oval-shaped pastry cake is decorated in the royal colors: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. These three royal colors honor the three wise men – or three kings – who first visited the baby Jesus. I found this very informative article on Manny Randozzo Original King Cakes detailing the history of King Cakes.
But What About “The Baby”?
Traditionally the King Cake had a bean or pecan baked into the cake. Whoever cut the piece with the special bean had good luck for a year! The lucky winner also had to host the Mardi Gras party the next year. Of course, now we usually use a plastic baby.
Also, of course, you probably know that the plastic baby represents the baby Jesus. I also like to think of the plastic baby as representing new beginnings. New’s Year’s resolutions were thought about and made only a couple of months ago. This gives me an opportunity to think about how I’m doing with my goals.
If you use a bean, you can go ahead and bake it into the cake. If you want to use the plastic baby, wait until after the cake has baked and then push it in. You might be able to find a plastic baby at a party store, or perhaps a commercial baker would be willing to give you one. I found mine on Amazon (affiliate link below) and now I have plenty of plastic babies for years of celebration to come!
Tips and Tricks for Making the Mardi Gras King Cake (Vegan)
This is a vegan food blog and so the directions will be for a vegan cake. This cake does not use eggs or dairy. It has all the flavor, texture, and fun of the traditional king cake though! Are you are looking for a vegan king cake because you’d like to bring one to the party that you can eat and enjoy too? Or are you looking for a recipe that is either egg-free or dairy-free? Either way, you’ve come to the right place! Read on to learn more.
An experienced baker who already knows about yeast, gluten, kneading bread dough and such, can probably skip to the recipe card. If however, like most of us, you do not have that experience – or it’s been a few years – do NOT skip the Tips and Tricks section below. The directions are too numerous and complicated to put in the recipe card.
The Prep – and Things to Know Before You Start
- This recipe contains nuts You must disclose this to anyone who eats your king cake.
- You will need lots of time for this recipe. Give yourself about five hours to be safe.
- If you are ethically vegan and are concerned about sugar, use organic sugar. This goes for the brown sugar as well as the powdered (confectioners) sugar. Organic sugar is not processed with bone char. The organic white sugar will actually be off-white in color. This will not affect the color of the “sprinkles” you make.
- At the time of this writing, the Wilton gel food dyes have ingredients that are vegan compliant. If you are concerned, please read the labels yourself and source other options if that is your choice. I’ve also included a vegan food dye option below with the Amazon affiliate links.
- For an egg replacer, I use Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer. (Amazon affiliate link) I have used ground flax as well but was happier with the texture when I used Bob’s Egg Replacer.
- Use an unsweetened plant-milk of your choice. I used unsweetened cashew milk.
- What about scalding the milk? Recipes from “back in the day” probably include directions for scalding the milk. This is for unpasteurized dairy milk. There are bacteria and enzymes in unpasteurized dairy milk that will kill your yeast. We use plant-milk in the recipe, so it is absolutely unnecessary to scald the milk. I do warm it in the microwave for about 1 minute to melt the vegan butter though. Using warm milk will also help your dough to rise. (See below.)
- I do not have a fancy stand mixer at this time. I use a hand mixer and must finish incorporating the flour by hand. If you have a stand mixer with a bread attachment, follow the directions that came with your mixer.
The Yeast Part
- You will need to use warm water to get the yeast started. Too cold and it won’t start, too hot and you can kill it. A temperature of 100° to 110° is just right. If you are not 100% experienced, use a candy thermometer so that you get it right. 100° is warmer than room temperature water.
- You will begin to see your yeast start to get frothy in a couple of minutes. If nothing has happened at all, then your yeast might be dead. Make sure you have stirred in one-half Tablespoon of sugar, your water was the correct temperature, and the yeast was not expired. (There should be an expiration date on the package.)
- The yeast is done in about 10 minutes. It will be frothy, creamy, and will have expanded considerably.
- While the yeast is working, prepare the other wet ingredients. Start by microwaving the plant-milk and vegan butter for about one minute or until the butter has melted. My absolute favorite brand of vegan butter for baking is pictured below It can be pricey and difficult to source. (But it’s worth it!) I find mine at Trader Joe’s.
- After the milk/butter has heated in the microwave, pour into a large bowl. Whisk in the rest of the sugar, salt, nutmeg, vanilla, and egg replacer.
The Dough Part – and Yes, You Will Need to Knead!
- I use Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer (affiliate link) for this recipe. It just works best. Amazon affiliate link will be below. You might also find it at the grocery store with the “health” foods and flours.
- Use the “Displacement Method” to accurately and easily measure the vegan butter.
- After your yeast has fully “proofed”, add it to the milk mixture and stir well.
- With a hand mixer, add and mix the flour one cup at a time. With my mixer, I can only add about two cups before it gets too stiff. I finish by mixing the rest of the flour in by hand.
- Your dough might get to a point when you can no longer incorporate in any more flour. You will only have 1/4-1/2 cup left – but you just can”t get any more in. You are done. Start the kneading process. You will be incorporating more flour as you knead.
- Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Push with your hands, folding, and push again. Here is a Youtube video I found from Bread 101 if you are not sure how to knead. You will be kneading for 8-10 minutes. You will know you are done when your dough is smooth and elastic.
Now the Dough Rises…and You Wait!
- After you have finished kneading the dough, form into a ball and put into a greased/oiled bowl. I use coconut oil.
- Your bowl will need to be much larger than the dough ball because it will double in size before it is finished.
- Put the dough into the bowl and then turn it over so that both the top and the bottom are oiled. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a slightly damp cloth.
- Your dough will need a warmish place to rise. If my kitchen is cold, I warm my oven to 250° degrees then turn it off. I place my dough bowl near the oven. It is just warm enough in that area to rise well.
- Now you wait for 2 hours. Go ahead and clean your kitchen, prep the colored sugars, and make the filling. Next, you can do a yoga session. You’ll have time.
- After two hours, your dough should have risen significantly. You will know it’s done if, when you poke it with your finger, it indents and stays.
- Punch it down. Time to make make a King Cake!
Time to Make a Mardi Gras King Cake!
- Punch down the dough now. I know….seems counterproductive right? Nope, it’s a necessary step that relaxes the gluten and makes the dough easier to roll.
- Roll the dough out into a large rectangle- about the size of a legal pad or about 9″ x 12″ish.
- Spread the prepared filling mixture evenly onto the rectangle. Start at the large edge and roll lightly like a jelly roll. You will end up with a long tube.
- Make an oval ring out of the long tube on a greased baking sheet. I used a silicone mat (affiliate link.
- Put the seam side down when you are making the oval ring and pinch the edges together so that it forms an unbroken oval.
- With a sharp knife, make slits along the edges down to the filling and about one inch apart.
- Let sit in a warm place for about 45 minutes. It will continue to rise – but won’t double like before.
- Preheat your oven to 350° while the ring is resting/rising.
- If you haven’t yet, while the king cake is baking, you can make the colored sugar.
Every Mardi Gras King Cake Needs Colored Sugar – It’s the Rule!
- If your eating ethics are vegan, you might want to consider the sugar you are using. Sugar isn’t necessarily vegan because it can be processed with bone char. That’s what makes it shiny white. Not all sugar is processed this way though, but without a little research, you just don’t know. You can be sure though, that if you use organic sugar, it is not processed using bone char. The color will be a little bit off-white but that won’t affect the final outcome of the colored sugar.
- Separate the sugar into three separate bags. Drop a little food dye into each bag – green, purple, and yellow. Shake and squish it around until all the color has absorbed.
- You should start with a couple of drops of food coloring and add more till you reach the desired color.
The Baking and Finishing Touches
- After forming and making slits in the oval ring, allow to sit and rise again for 45 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350°
- Bake the king cake for 25-30 minutes. It will be lightly browned on top when finished.
- After you take the king cake out of the oven, brush a little melted vegan butter on top to soften the “crust”.
- You can wait until the cake is out of the oven to make the icing.
- The icing is where I deviate slightly from a traditional king cake. Most recipes call for powdered sugar and water. That’s it. I personally do not like the taste of powdered sugar and water. My icing includes two Tablespoons of vegan butter and plant milk, as well as some vanilla and a pinch of salt.
- Carefully place the king cake on your serving platter before icing. The icing will make the cake sticky, messy, and heavy. It will be challenging to lift it and situate on the serving dish after.
- Don’t forget the tuck the baby in the pastry ring. The baby is kind of the point in enjoying this Mardi Gras cake with your friends.
- Before pouring the icing around the oval ring, I put little pieces of wax paper underneath. After finishing the icing and sprinkling, I carefully pull out the pieces. This cleans up the frosting/sugar mess that will likely happen around the bottom of the cake.
Time to cut and enjoy!
Things I found helpful in making this vegan Mardi Gras King Cake Recipe:
*Affiliate links* I am an Amazon affiliate. This means that clicking on and purchasing through one of these links might earn Veggie Fun Kitchen compensation at no additional cost to you.
Okay I don’t actually have this one yet….but it is definably on the list!
Finally – the Recipe for Vegan Mardi Gras King Cake With Brown Sugar Pecan Filling!
Thank you for your patience reading through this post. I realize there are a lot of words, but I want your Mardi Gras celebration to be successful – at least the King Cake should be:)
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Mardi Gras King Cake (Vegan)
The Pastry Dough
- .25 ounce Active Dry Yeast Package
- 1/3 cup warm water 100°-110°
- 1 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cashew milk or plant milk of choice
- 1/4 cup vegan butter
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 Tablespoons Bob's Red Mill Egg Replacer sub flax meal
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour use 1/2 more if necessary
- A little extra melted butter to brush on the top of the baked pastry.
Brown Sugar Pecan Filling
- 1/2 cup vegan butter melted
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- purple, green, and yellow food dyes
Powdered Sugar Icing
- 2 Tablespoons vegan butter melted
- 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cashew milk or plant milk of choice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
- pinch salt
The Pastry Dough
- Sprinkle yeast packet on warm water. Gently stir in 1 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. Let sit for about 10 minutes. Yeast mixture will be frothy and bubbly.
- While the yeast is rising, prepare the other ingredients EXCEPT for the flour.
- Melt 2 Tablespoons of vegan butter with the cashew milk in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
- Pour milk/butter mixture into a medium-large bowl. Add in the 1/3 cup granulated sugar, egg replacer (Bob's Red Mill), nutmeg, salt, and vanilla. With a hand mixture, mix till well incorporated.
- When the yeast is ready, pour all at once into the milk mixture. Stir well.
- With your hand mixer, mix in flour 1/2 cup at a time. When you have mixed in two cups, your mixer probably can't handle the rest of the flour. Incorporate the rest on the flour by hand.
- Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes. You will know your dough is ready when it is smooth and elastic. Do not over knead or your king cake will be too tough.
- Lightly oil another large bowl. I sprayed in coconut oil. Put the dough ball in and then turn so that all surfaces are oiled. Cover with a plastic wrap or damp cloth. Let rise for 2 hours in a warm spot in your kitchen.
Brown Sugar Pecan Filling
- Melt the vegan butter into a small mixing bowl.
- Add the other ingredients: packed brown sugar, ground cinnamon, pecans, flour, and salt. mix together till crumbly. Set aside
- You can make the sugar anytime during the rising/resting/baking process.
- Divide the sugar evenly into 3 baggies. Working with one color at a time, drop a couple of drops of food coloring into the baggie.
- Shake and smooth until the color incorporates. You can always add more until you have achieved the desired color.
Powdered Sugar Icing
- You can wait until your king cake has baked and you've taken it out of the oven for this step.
- Melt vegan butter into a small bowl.
- Add in the plant milk, vanilla, powdered sugar, and pinch of salt.
- Whisk together till all powdered sugar is incorporated. Set aside.
Baking and Decorating the Mardi Gras King Cake
- After the dough has risen for 2 hours, punch down.
- On a floured surface, roll your dough into a 9x12 rectangle.
- Evenly spread prepared brown sugar pecan filling on the rectangle.
- Starting at the long end roll up into a large tube.
- Place on the prepared surface of your cookie sheet in an oval ring. Place seam side down and pinch the ends together to make a complete oval.
- With a sharp knife, cut into the ring just down to the filling in one-inch intervals.
- Let rest and rise for 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350° while oval ring is resting.
- Bake for about 25-30 minutes in a 350° oven. You will know it is done when it is lightly browned on top.
- If desired, brush about 1 Tablespoon melted vegan butter on the top of the baked king cake.
- If you haven't already made the icing, make it now. See instructions above.
- Transfer the baked king cake to your serving platter. Don't forget to tuck the baby into the baked king cake!
- Pour icing on top (see directions in post for wax paper trick).
- Sprinkle colored sugar in a pattern around the ring.
- Party on! Whoever finds the baby in their slice has good luck for a year and gets to host next year's Mardi Gras party! Really! It's the rule:)