King Cake cupcakes

Cupcakes inspired by the traditional Mardi Gras King Cake.

Eat. Run. Read.
King Cake cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese filling.

In Rio they have Carnival, in the New Zealand it’s Shrove Tuesday, in the UK it’s Pancake Day, and in New Orleans it’s Mardi Gras. Here in Washington, D.C. it’s just the Tuesday after President’s Day … but hey, we’re only 1,084 miles from The Big Easy, so I’m going to listen to some jazz and blues, eat a gaudy green/purple/gold cupcake, and wish a Happy Mardi Gras to you all!

These cupcakes are inspired by the traditional Mardi Gras King Cake. The King Cake actually originates from the Epiphany celebration that traditionally falls on January 6 (12 days after Christmas) and recognizes the day that the kings (Magi) arrived in Bethlehem and Jesus was baptized. In the Southern United States, the King Cake is a part of the entire Carnival season of celebrations (a party a week – woohoo!), which last from Epiphany to Mardi Gras and the beginning of Lent.

King Cakes are usually circular twists of brioche-style bread decorated with traditional Mardi Gras colors. They're sometimes filled with cream cheese or fruit. They also tend to have a plastic baby, bean, orange peel, or nut hidden inside – whoever finds the hidden treat is the “king” of the party, or has to make the cake for the next party. (I didn't hide anything, but you definitely can!)

Since I’m not actually a Southerner, I hope you’ll forgive me for adjusting this traditional treat and making my own mini version: King Cake Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Filling. Keep in mind that the cake is actually a yeast dough, so it’s bready like brioche. After baking, the cream cheese filling kind of disappeared ... so though it added some extra richness and flavor you could skip it altogether if you would like.  

King Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Filling
Inspired by Baking Bites
Makes about 15 cupcakes


2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2-1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast (.25-oz)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk (any kind), warm (100-110 degrees F.)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs and 1 egg yolk room temperature (save the white for the filling)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1 4-ounce cream cheese (1/2 block), room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon


Line cupcake tins. 

In a large bowl or the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine 3/4 cup flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Stir to combine.

Add in warm milk and oil, then beat mixture for 2 minutes at medium speed. The paddle attachment works the best for this recipe. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, waiting until each has been fully incorporated to add the next. Add in the vanilla extract and an additional 1/2 cup of flour and beat for 2 more minutes at medium-high speed.

Stir in all remaining flour (creating a thick batter, rather than a standard dough), then cover the bowl and let rest for 10 minutes while you make the filling.

For the filling, beat together all ingredients at high speed until smooth and fluffy.

Scoop about half the dough into each cupcake tin (about 3 Tablespoons per cupcake). Using a spoon, add dollops of cream cheese filling to each cupcake.

Spoon the remaining batter over each cupcake, trying to cover the filling (you won’t be able to completely cover it, which is fine). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (under a lamp, in a 100 degrees oven, on top of the dryer, etc.) until doubled in size, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake cupcakes for 15-18 minutes. 

Let cakes cool in pans for 5 minutes, then turn them out to finish cooling on a wire rack.


2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2-3 tbsp water
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
food coloring

Beat all ingredients except food coloring until smooth, adding more water or powdered sugar as necessary to reach a drippy but not liquid consistency. 

Scoop out 1/3 of the icing into a separate bowl and mix in food coloring (as you can see, I went with purple).

Spoon white frosting over the cooled cupcakes. Using a fork, drip purple frosting on top, then immediately decorate with sprinkles!

For a printable version of this recipe, click here.

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