New Orleans is well known for Mardi Gras, but many don't know that the regional dish popular during the Carnival period is a decadent King Cake. Also known as the Three Kings Cake, it's a wonderful, three-layered cake with a cream cheese and cinnamon-sugar filling. Traditional recipes are topped with purple, green and gold colored sugar. This King Cake Cheesecake is made simple with Pillsbury crescent dough and comes together quick and easy! Perfect for a last minute addition for your Mardi Gras party.
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What does King Cake taste like?
If you've never been to New Orleans around Mardi Gras, you may be wondering what King Cake actually tastes like! You can typically get a filled or an unfilled cake. Unfilled is basically a giant flaky cinnamon roll. Filled is when they stuff that cinnamon roll with cream cheese, apples, or berries. My personal favorite is cream cheese, which is basically a cinnamon roll cheesecake! This version is perfect if you are craving a King Cake, but don't want to have one shipped to you. You can quickly throw this together and bring it to a party or eat it all yourself.
This recipe is so simple and the best tip is that you want a really good dish. This recipe calls for an oven safe 9x12 pan and I love this Wilton pan because not only does it have a lid which is perfect for parties, but it is glass so you can use it for many recipes. Many a casserole has been baked in mine. The glass also lets you see how the bottom of the cake is doing. You don't want a perfectly flaky top with a still raw bottom!
Even if you don't have a glass pan, you can still avoid raw bottoms by baking this dessert on a low rack in the oven. If you put it too high then the top will cook long before the bottom. Of course, this will vary oven by oven so your mileage may vary. I have a very old apartment oven so this was key for my King Cake cheesecake coming out like I'd hoped! Make sure that you prep it with an oil spray so that you can easily lift the cheesecake bars out.
To make it even easier to whip together the center use a stand mixer or your handheld mixer. I've had this handheld mixer for years and I love how easy it is to change the speed settings. Plus the different attachments make it something you will want to use all the time!
Now if you want to go REALLY traditional, get a tiny baby to stick it in the cake. Tradition says that if you get the baby then it's your job to bring the king cake to the next party! I love these plastic babies because they have all skin type options so no one feels left out.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Pillsbury Crescent Dough- It's much easier if you can find seamless crescent dough, otherwise you'll need to pinch together the seams so you have one solid sheet of dough. You'll need two cans, one for the top and one for the bottom! You can also use puff pasty for an even flakier version a bit more like king cake!
- Cream Cheese- It wouldn't be a king cake cheesecake if you didn't have a cream cheese filling! Feel free to use a light cream cheese or low fat cream cheese. It won't be as good, but you knew that already. The best things in life are fatty and sweet!
- Sugar and Cinnamon- That's what really makes this taste like King Cake. You can't get the cinnamon roll flavor without cinnamon and sugar. For a slightly different taste, substitute out a ¼ cup of brown sugar! Or if watching your sugar intake, use monk fruit! I can't tell the difference and I would bet you can't either and it's 0 calories!
- Vanilla Extract- You'd be amazed what a really good vanilla extract can add to a dish. This will elevate your cream cheese filling to the next level.
- Butter- This is for the topping. Once you place the top layer of crescent dough, spread the butter on top so that the sprinkles will stick.
- Sprinkles- In order for this to be a King Cake Cheesecake and not a regular cheesecake you need to get the colors right. Everything Mardi Gras is purple, yellow and green! I like to do mine in layers diagonally so there is a little bit of each color in every bar. If you aren't feeling festive, sprinkle ¼ cup of white sugar on top with a bit of extra cream cheese.
The most popular King Cake flavors are old school traditional which is just cinnamon and sugar, cream cheese, and then there are ones with filling. Depending on the store I've seen so many different flavors! If you want it to be more traditional, then use puff pasty and layer butter cinnamon and sugar in between the two layers.
If you want to go the berry route then I recommend strawberry cream cheese! To try this version, leave out the cinnamon from the mixture and just sprinkle it on top. Then layer strawberries or strawberry jam on top of the cream cheese and place the second layer of dough on top. Try it with different berries so that you love your Mardi Gras Cheesecake!
You can even mix up the topping by doing a simple glaze. A tablespoon of milk with a ½ cup of powdered sugar whisked together would make an excellent topping. Just make sure that your cake is done baking and cooled or the glaze will run right off.
Top Tips on the Topping
Typically for cheesecake bars you would mix the cinnamon and sugar together for the topping. In this Pillsbury recipe , you can see the step by steps for the process with this variation. The top looks incredible as the butter and sugar caramelize to form a crunchy crust. For my King Cake version, I knew that it was going to be covered up by the large amount of sprinkles, so I put the cinnamon in the cream cheese. I liked the depth of flavor in the cream cheese with sugary topping. You can put the cinnamon wherever you'd like it or leave it out altogether if you don't like it!
When I made this King Cake Cheesecake, I knew I was going to have to be mindful of the sprinkle situation. When cut into bars, if they hadn't adhered to the pastry, then the sprinkles would go everywhere when I cut it! I was afraid baking the sprinkles would affect this. The best way I found around this is to brush the topping with butter again to make it sticky and then add the sprinkles. I worked in sections for each color, packing on maximum sprinkles to get that true King Cake color scheme. I just love how beautiful they came out! This would also be perfect with green and red for Christmas.
If you bought a baby to place inside of your King Cake, then you'll want to randomly place it in the cream cheese layer. Try not to place it on a line that you will cut through as you want it to be a surprise who gets it!
You have luck and prosperity for the next year! And lucky you, you're responsible for bringing the cake to the party next year.
Of course not! If you don't want a filling at all, use puff pastry and sprinkle butter and cinnamon sugar in between the two layers. You can also top the cream cheese with berries (I love strawberries).
If you know what it means to miss New Orleans, I would love to hear about it! Rate this recipe below and tell me what you did and what you think. I'd also love to see your beautiful creations! Tag me on instagram and show off your colorful dessert! I hope you live your zest life with this one.
King Cake Cheesecake Bars
- 9x13 pan
- 2 8oz rolls pillsbury crescent dough, seamless
- 2 8oz packages cream cheese, room temperature
- 1¼ cups sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla
- ½ cup butter, melted
- purple sprinkles
- green sprinkles
- yellow/gold sprinkles
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease your 9x13 pan with cooking spray.
- Take one can of crescent dough and place into pan, making sure to cover the entire bottom. If your crescent dough has seams, press the seams together to seal them.
- In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, 1 cup of the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Spread over crescent dough in pan, creating an even layer.
- Lay the second crescent dough over the top of the cream cheese mixture. If your dough has seams, lay it on a cutting board first to press the seams together.
- Pour ¼ cup of the melted butter over the top and make sure the entire top has butter on it. Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup of sugar.
- Bake for 25 minutes on the lower rack in your oven, until top is browned.
- To decorate: Working in sections, use a pastry brush to brush on butter and top with generous amounts of sprinkles until entire top is covered. Let cool completely and refrigerate.
- Once cool, slice into bars and serve at room temperature.
If you make this recipe, be sure to tag @thatzestlife in your photo! I would love to see what you made!