Celebrate Mardi Gras With This Colorful Dessert

Homemade colorful Mardi Gras king cake

If you're not in New Orleans for Mardi Gras – or even if you are – one of the best ways to celebrate is by sharing a king cake with friends and family. The traditional king cake is a rich, decadent "last hurrah" before the Lenten season of fasting, but the prep is anything but fast, with a sweet yeasted dough that requires kneading time and two rises. This quicker version uses pre-made cinnamon roll dough and can be on the table and ready to serve in less than an hour. It does call for including a plastic baby in the cake, which many grocery and baking stores sell in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras. Push the baby into the cake at the very end, after baking and just before serving. The figure represents Baby Jesus, and according to tradition, whoever ends up with the baby is blessed with good fortune and obligated to provide the king cake next year.

Total Time: 40 minutes | Prep Time: 15 minutes | Serves: 8 to 12



Colored sugar is available at many baking specialty stores, but you can also make your own. Add 3 to 5 drops of food coloring to 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Mix thoroughly, and then sprinkle the colored sugar on the cake before serving.

  • 2 cans cinnamon rolls
  • 4 ounces Neufchatel cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Colored sugar, for topping (purple, green and yellow)
  • 1 small plastic baby


Neufchatel is simply a lower-fat version of cream cheese. Most people don't notice much of a difference in taste, but it's not worth a special trip to the store, so if you have cream cheese on hand, use that instead.


  1. Heat oven to 350F and prepare a 10-inch Bundt pan by coating it with cooking spray.
  2. Press one can of cinnamon rolls evenly into the bottom of the pan. 
  3. With an electric mixer, combine the Neufchatel cheese with the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla extract. Beat until light and creamy, about 2 minutes.
  4. Use a spatula to spread the cheese mixture over the dough in the pan.
  5. Press the dough from the second can of cinnamon rolls into the pan on top of the cheese mixture. 
  6. Bake the cake at 350F for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.
  7. While the cake is baking, whisk the powdered sugar together with the milk and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract until it forms a glaze. Add more milk 1 teaspoon at a time until you achieve the glaze consistency you want.
  8. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then unmold it onto a serving plate.
  9. Pour the glaze over the warm cake. 
  10. While the glaze is still runny, sprinkle alternating bands of the colored sugars over the top of the cake.
  11. Wait at least 15 more minutes for the cake to finish cooling and for the glaze to solidify. Just before serving, stick the plastic baby into the bottom of the cake (or into one specific slice while serving).


This may seem obvious, but don't serve any cake that may have the plastic baby in it to small kids. The baby can be a choking hazard. Warn unsuspecting adults, too, to avoid potential choking and mouth injury.