What is the difference between Three Kings Day Cake and King Cake?

Fat Tuesday is next week and you know what that means. Yeah, actually we don't really either, other than the fact that all of a sudden the morning TV shows are making something called King Cake and talking about Carnival.

Carnival and King Cake are absolutely Latino traditions, but in the U.S., that means something a little different. First, let's face it, New Orleans may throw a good party but if you want Carnival, you have to go to South America. Second, shouldn't king cake be served on January 6?

Yes and no. Turns out they aren't exactly the same thing.


Three Kings Day Bread--sometimes called Three Kings Cake--is served on January 6th (Three Kings Day or Epiphany if you prefer) among Latinos, but specifically in Mexico and Spain. If I gave a recipe, everyone would start yelling at me that it was wrong because everyone has their own variation but the basics are a yeast-risen sweet bread, decorated with colorful fruit, baked with a plastic baby Jesus. The person who finds the baby gets a trip to the dentists to fix their chipped tooth and the honor of hosting the family for Candlemas in February. Got it, good.

King Cake is also a yeast-risen sweet dough, sometimes rolled and filled with cinnamon, sometimes not. It, too, bakes with a surprise inside but here is where the similarities end. King Cake is baked with either a dried bean or a plastic baby. It is then covered in sugar glaze and sprinkled with sugar in purple, green and gold (the colors of Mardi Gras). The person who finds the "surprise" has to provide the King Cake next year. It is popular throughout Mardi Gras, but specifically on Fat Tuesday--so named because it is the last day of eating and indulging before Ash Wednesday. Here is a recipe from Emeril Lagasse, cause who would know it better?


  • 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 to 5 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/2 cup warm milk (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, cooled
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped candied citron
  • 1 pecan half, uncooked dried bean or King Cake Baby



Preheat the oven 350 degrees. Combine the warm water, yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside to a warm place for about 10 minutes. Combine the 4 cups of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, nutmeg, lemon rind and add warm milk, melted butter, egg yolks and yeast mixture. Beat until smooth. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place the dough in a well-greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top.

Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours). Punch the dough down and place on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with the citron and knead until the citron is evenly distributed. Shape the dough into a cylinder, about 30 inches long. Place the cylinder on a buttered baking sheet. Shape into a ring, pinching ends together to seal. Place a well-greased 2-pound coffee can or shortening can in the center of the ring to maintain shape during baking. Press the King Cake Baby, pecan half or dried bean into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough. Cover the ring with a towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the coffee can immediately. Allow the cake to cool. For the glaze: Combine the ingredients and beat until smooth. To assemble, drizzle cake with the glaze. Sprinkle with sugar crystals, alternating colors. Cut into the cake and hope you do not get the baby.


Then you know what happens, Lent. We all know about that.

Which do you like better, King Cake or Three Kings Day Bread?

Image via yvetteSoler/Flickr

Topics: latin recipes  mexican food  spanish food  traditional latin recipes