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Donna Gay’s King Cake

King cakes are a New Orleans tradition. But in fact the evolution of king cake is far reaching. From celebrations in both France and Latin America. This amazing festival treat is something that is meant to be shared with friends and family. It doesn’t hurt that it’s basically a giant sweet bread doughnut with icy frosting and colorful sprinkles. And of course a baby hiding inside. One of my mothers dearest friends growing up, and now someone I count among my friends, is an amazingly talented woman named Donna Gay. She shared this king cake recipe with us last year and I have to say it’s a work of art. Donna Gay I have to share this recipe with the world. I hope you don't mind!

Cake Ingredients

1/3 Cup Sugar

1 tsp salt

½ Cup Shortening

2 large eggs at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup milk (chilled)

2 packages dry yeast

4 to 5 cups all purpose flour

Melted butter for brushing dough


Brown sugar

Chopped pecans for filling (as much or as little as you like) or any other filling you like i.e. cream cheese.

Tips: Keep the dough fairly warm, but not hot while rising Don’t over bake this. 15 minutes is usually all you need.


Dissolve the yeast into the milk and set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar, salt and shortening. Add eggs and beat well. If you have dough hook attachments for your mixer, use them. If not, good luck. Add vanilla. Add the milk mixture and four cups of the flour. More flour may be needed if the dough is too wet. If so, add in small amounts at a time. The dough should be smooth and elastic. Knead well. Place in a greased bowl and cover with a damp dish towel. Let dough rise 1 ½ hours. Punch it down and divide into two equal portions. Roll each portion into a strip 4 X 30 inches. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with brown sugar, pecans and cinnamon. There are no specific proportions for this. I use handfuls of brown sugar and make a river down the center of the long strip of dough, then sprinkle the nuts and cinnamon. I like generous amounts, but you may adapt it to your preference. If you prefer a different type of filling (fruit, raisins, sweetened cheese, etc.), this is the place to add that. Pull the sides together so that the filling is encased into two long tubular strips. Pinch the dough together where it meets so that there are no holes. Twist the two tubes together like a rope and secure the ends so that you have a big oval. Make sure there are no holes where filling can leak out. If there are, wet your finger a little and squeeze them together smoothing as you go. Place on a big baking sheet lined with parchment paper. This part can be awkward, but just wrestle with it and shape it as you go. Cover again with the damp cloth and let rise for one hour. It should double in bulk. Bake at 360’-375’ for approx 20 minutes or until the top browns a bit. Cool completely. Transfer carefully (use two or three spatulas and one friend☺) to serving platter. If you have no friends, place a spare cookie sheet over the cake and flip. Peel off parchment paper, place serving platter on top and flip again.

Frosting Ingredients

1 stick unsalted butter

Powdered sugar (at least a cup but as much as two)

3-4 Tbsp buttermilk


Melt butter and stir in sugar until completely smooth. You should start with one cup sugar and add more until it is this and spreadable. Then thin it out with buttermilk. It should be the consistency to pour, but still pretty thick. Pour over cake. Immediately sprinkle colored sugars over cake as desired. Use yellow, green and purple sugar for Mardi Gras. Colored Sugar (this is the fun part) Pour plain white sugar into a zip lock bag. Drop 4 or 5 drops of food coloring into the bag. Zip it up and squish the sugar around until it is all dyed. For the purple you will have to use blue and red mixed….unless you find purple food coloring. *When I was teaching Speech at St. Thomas in the 1990s a student, Eddie Richmond, made this cake for his demonstration speech. It was so yummy I have been making it ever since. His mother tells me that this recipe is originally from Haydel’s Bakery. Thank you Eddie!

Donna Gay original got this recipe from Eddie Richmond, who made this cake for her and friends in the 1990s . It was so yummy she have been making it ever since. Eddie's mother told her that this recipe is originally from Haydel’s Bakery. Thank you Eddie! And thank you Donna Gay you are a Mardi Gras Goddess!

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