Mardi Gras is meant to be an indulgent celebration. This yearly holiday is a chance to squeeze in one last rich, fatty meal before a traditional season of fasting for Christians. The meal and festivities may vary, but in New Orleans, a king cake is always the traditional dessert.
What is a king cake?
A king cake, or three kings cake, is named after the Biblical story in which three kings bring gifts to baby Jesus. Traditional king cakes have a bready texture and a cinnamon flavor. During celebrations, a small toy or bean representing the baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake. Whoever gets the slice with the hidden toy gets to be king for the day.
Our cupcake version is inspired by the flavors and colors of a traditional king cake, but with the soft and fluffy texture of white cake.
King cake cupcake recipe
For the cake:
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 2 tbsp whole milk
- 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
For the filling:
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 5 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
For the icing:
- 1 ¼ cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 2 oz. cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- Purple, green, and yellow sprinkles
Place an oven rack in the center of the oven; preheat to 325°F. Line a cupcake tin with 9 liners (or lightly grease).
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, sour cream, milk, and vanilla.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and egg on medium-high until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium and add half the wet ingredients; beat until combined, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and add half the dry ingredients; beat until combined. Repeat with the remaining wet and dry ingredients, beating until only a few white streaks remain. Use a spatula to gently thoroughly incorporate.
To make the filling, melt the butter in a medium bowl in the microwave (or melt on the stove, then transfer to a medium bowl). Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar; whisk to combine.
Using a large spoon, fill the cupcake liners about halfway with the batter. Divide the spiced sugar among the cupcakes, then top with the remaining batter. Bake 25 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
Once the cupcakes are cool, in a bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and heavy cream. Add the powdered sugar and whisk to combine. Divide the icing among the cooled cupcakes, then decorate with the sprinkles to your preference. Enjoy!