January 6, 2010

Waiter! There's a BABY in my cake! -- or -- IT MUST BE THREE KINGS DAY

Today we are celebrating the 12th Day of Christmas.  I'm nursing a tremendous migraine, so fortunately, this does not mean that our true love will be bestowing the gift of "twelve drummers drumming".  What it does mean is that today my family and I will celebrate Three Kings Day; also know as Epiphany or Twelfth Night.

This Christian holiday celebrates the day that the three wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus. The legendary visit later gave rise to the custom of gift giving at Christmas on the Feast of the Epiphany, today traditionally observed on January 6.

In Germany, where my father's family originated, children go from house to house on Epiphany eve, singing carols and chalking the year and initials KMB (those of the kings, Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar), near the entrance of each home. The festive Dreikonigskuchen or Three Kings Cake is also served that night to celebrate the occasion.

Since childhood I have relished all the magic and pageantry that comes with holiday celebrations, and have also been intrigued by family history, heritage, and culture.  Any opportunity to make a little magic ~ transforming an ordinary day into an extraordinary day of joy and memory-making is an opportunity best seized in my book.  So as a parent, I have made considerable effort to learn more about the traditions and celebrations of my and my husband's ancestors, and integrated them into our lives in the present day. 

On years where January 6 falls on a weekend, we host a big party for all our friends, family and neighbors where we serve a traditional New Orlean's style King Cake.  In keeping with the tradition, the guest that finds the little baby jesus charm in his/her piece of cake is crowned King or Queen of the day and is given a hand-made crown to wear.  In years where the holiday is on a weekday, we find a way to integrate the celebration in to an activity at school, or let the girls choose a few friends to have over in the evening.  This year, we brought the party to my daughter's preschool.  The children helped me prepare a humongous King Cake, which was enjoyed by all.

The tradition of the King Cake is popular in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Bulgaria, to name a few. In the United States, the King Cake is part of the Mardi Gras season traditions. Each country has it’s own recipe for the King Cake, varying from the French Galette de Rois with Puff Pastry and Almond filling, to the Louisana version which more closely resembles a ring of broiche. Despite regional differences, what these special cakes have in common is that they all have a small trinket (often a small plastic baby, sometimes said to represent Baby Jesus) inside, and the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket has various privileges and obligations. The traditional trinket in the cake is a bean, still seen in some European and Mexican traditions but rare in U.S. king cakes.

I’ve taken some liberties with the traditional Louisiana style King Cake, to make it more family friendly, and fun to prepare as a group. Borrowing from the Mardi Gras tradition, we top our King Cake with sprinkles in green, purple, and gold: Green representing “Faith”, Purple representing “Justice”, and Gold representing “Power”. It is also said that these three colors represent the gifts of the Magi: Gold, Incense and Myrrh.  The cake is baked in a bundt pan, giving it its characteristic ring shape, representing a crown.

This tradition is a wonderful way to round-out the Christmas season, continue the joy, honor our culture, history, and for those of the Christian faith, to further celebrate the savior's birth.
King Cake
(adapted from my grandmother's recipe for monkey bread)

3 tubes refrigerator biscuits (small, buttermilk)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup melted butter (2 sticks), plus extra for buttering the pan
1 trinket  (we use a plastic baby, which I promise you does not melt)
purple, gold, and green sprinkles
icing (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 375.

Butter the inside of a bundt pan.

Open biscuit tubes.  Cut each biscuit in half and gently squeeze into a rough ball shape.  Children can do this with safety scissors.

In a medium bowl, combine sugars and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, melt butter.

A handful at a time, dip biscuit balls in melted butter. 
Transfer to sugar bowl and toss to coat.

Place sugared biscuits in buttered bundt pan.

Be sure to imbed your trinket into one of the biscuit pieces before dipping and rolling in sugar.  If serving a small group, and wanting to ensure that one guest gets the trinket, insert a toothpick in the area where it is hidden.  This way, you can be sure to serve from this portion of the cake first.

Continue until all biscuits have been buttered and sugared and placed evenly around the bundt pan.  Gently press down to help biscuits adhere to one another.  Pour remaining butter over the top of the biscuits.

Bake until biscuits rise and are golden brown (approx. 30 minutes).

Remove from oven and immediately invert cake on to a serving plate.

Drizzle with icing.
  1. Melt 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of butter in a saucepan or microwave.
  2. Sift 2 cups of powdered sugar into a medium size bowl.
  3. Add the melted butter to the powdered sugar.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons of milk.
  5. Beat until smooth and creamy, adding a little more milk if necessary.
Sprinkle one third of cake with purple sprinkles, another third with gold, and the last with green.


The guest that finds the trinket becomes
"King" or "Queen" for the day. 




  1. I usually celebrate the January 6th tradition with you..because of you! Thanks! I need Monkey Bead NOW!

  2. What a wonderful way to celebrate Epiphany!

  3. Wow, I never realized that a monkey bread recipe is what those King cakes are made out of! How super easy and beautiful! I just put a calender alert on my email, to alert me of this holiday next year! I didn't really know what it was about. Thanks for the heads up!

  4. I am just starting to really look into traditions and trying to encorporate them more in our lives. Thank you for this very informative, yet fun post. It looks like the children had a BLAST!

  5. I remember doing this in elementary school but I sure like your "cake" recipe a whole lot better! How fun that the kids can really participate in making it. I like the picture of the baby going in the dough. The giant arrow is like "Here's the baby!!"

    Very neat ;)

  6. My FIL is German yet we never do this. We really should.

  7. this is just wonderful! I am a stickler for requiring Christmas decorations to remain up until today--but I have never actually made a celebration of it. Next year I will make an effort and your delicious cake.

  8. My aunt used to make that - but without the icing - and she called it Monkey Bread. It's soooooooo good. Thanks for sharing the tradition behind the King Cake!!


  9. We don't celebrate Epiphany, but I was raised by a Jewish mom who converted to Christianity, so we don't really have traditions. What a lovely celebration, though, I may do this next year. The Queen of the Day is a cutie-pie!

  10. This is so interesting! I just might have to do this next year. What a fun celebration!! Thank you for sharing.

  11. How lovely! That cake looks divine. It sounds like a lovely tradition. x

  12. Okay, I must be living on another planet. I have never heard of this before, but it looks fun and I bet taste yummy!!

  13. Hi there,

    I popped over from Holly's blog (504) Main and wanted to say hello!

    I am a native New Orleanian and this piqued my interest. I'm not sure biscuit dough would taste much like a real King Cake, but it looks like fun to make for family & kiddos! I'm trying to restrain myself from ordering my favorite kind from my favorite NOLA bakery. MMmMmmMMMmMMMmM!!!

    Thanks for sharing

  14. Mmmmm, this recipe looks great! I had never heard of this tradition until several years ago when a friend of mine actually had her mother ship king cake from New Orleans (where she was from) to DC (where we were living at the time)! And I ended up finding baby Jesus in my piece to boot!
    Great post!
    Kelli @ SustainingCreativity

  15. Thank you for the oreo recipe!!! I made them for a party this evening and they were a HUGE hit!!!

  16. I never heard of this before our Spanish exchange student was telling me about it. Thank you for doing a better job of articulating all the significance.

  17. So fun. My kids would love to do this. Is it always on 1/6? Love hearing the culture and faith aspects of it. Well done...looks delicious. Holly

  18. I've never celebrated Jan. 6 but it sure sounds like a fun tradition. I really like the bread idea. I am going to try to remember this for next year. I think the kids will love it.

    I received the transfers today. Thanks again! I'm going to try out some homemade chocolate very soon.

  19. I love 3 Kings Cake and that one you made looks specially DELICIOUS!! ... We didn't celebrate last year but this one I am definitely dropping that baby in the mix! Happy New Year!!

  20. I just loved that story. That is so cool. We attend Mass, but we do not do the 12 days of Christmas. Warm wishes to you and your family.

  21. Such fun! My extended family and I just got together last weekend in honor of Jan 6. I must admit that the celebration was even better than Christmas. Much more relaxed and really focused on being together.

    It is great to read that you have some of the same traditions in your house. Thanks for sharing!

  22. What a wonderful way to celebrate Epiphany!

    Work from home India


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