Sweetheart King Cake is a colorful and impressive twist on the traditional Mardi Gras king cake. Forming the king cake into a heart shape adds a festive touch to Valentine’s Day and gives your Mardi Gras celebration extra meaning. The sweet cinnamon and sugar filling takes this king cake over the top, while the cream cheese frosting and Valentine’s sprinkles provide a decadent spin on this classic Mardi Gras treat.
Every Carnival season, I make a king cake for a Mardi Gras celebration. This year, Fat Tuesday is the day before Valentine’s Day. Therefore, I decided to add a fun twist to this quintessential Mardi Gras goody by forming the king cake into a heart shape. To achieve a perfect heart shape, I cut the cinnamon-filled dough into cinnamon rolls. Then, I lined a heart-shaped pan with the cinnamon rolls and let the yeast work its magic.
- Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- The Dough – Here’s What You’ll Need
- Making the Dough: Step-by-Step
- Making the Cinnamon Roll Filling
- Forming the Heart-Shaped King Cake: Step-by-Step
- Making the Frosting and Finishing the Sweetheart King Cake
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Other King Cake Recipes
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Creative: Adding this creative twist to a Mardi Gras classic provides a memorable and festive Valentine’s Day treat.
- Simple: Cinnamon rolls provide a simple and delicious base for the king cake, with the bread machine doing most of the work. Cinnamon rolls are easier to use when forming the heart shape than a single cinnamon-filled dough log.
- Impressive: This Sweetheart King Cake looks impressive when decorated with luscious cream cheese frosting and colorful sprinkles. It does a double duty for Valentine’s Day and Fat Tuesday.
- Customize: I decided to fill the cinnamon rolls with a cinnamon and brown sugar filling. However, use your imagination for different fillings to suit one’s taste.
The Dough – Here’s What You’ll Need
The dough for this amazing king cake is super easy to work with and produces delicious results.
- Tangzhong: Tangzhong is a cooked paste made from milk and bread flour. Commonly used in Asian bread recipes, tangzhong adds moisture and softness to the bread by providing extra gelatinized starch and preventing the dough from drying out.
- The Flour: Bread flour, with its higher protein content, is used in this recipe.
- The Liquids: Both milk and unsalted butter hydrate the flour and add richness to the dough.
- Flavor Enhancers: Kosher salt and granulated sugar enhance the flavor of the dough. In addition, sugar helps feed the yeast so that the yeast can work its magic.
- The Yeast: I always use instant yeast in my bread recipes. The reason is that instant yeast does not need to be proofed like active dry yeast and can, therefore, be added directly to the other ingredients.
Making the Dough: Step-by-Step
- I started by making the Tangzhong. I whisked together milk and bread flour in a small saucepan for this. Then, I cooked the milk/flour mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly until a thick paste formed, and it left a clean trail from a spoon in the bottom of the pan. This took about 8 minutes.
- I let the tangzhong cool for about five minutes before adding it to the pan of my bread machine. Then, I added the milk, room-temperature butter, sugar, salt, bread flour, and yeast to the bread machine pan. I programmed the bread machine on the dough cycle and walked away while the bread machine worked its magic.
Making the Cinnamon Roll Filling
While the dough was processing, I made the cinnamon roll filling.
I used light brown sugar, bread flour, ground cinnamon, fine sea salt, and unsalted butter.
I started by whisking together the brown sugar, bread flour, cinnamon, and salt. Then, I added the melted butter and stirred the mixture together until everything was well combined. That’s it for the filling.
Forming the Heart-Shaped King Cake: Step-by-Step
- When the dough cycle finished on the bread machine, I transferred the dough to a lightly floured surface. The dough recipe makes enough dough for two king cakes, so I cut the dough in half.
- I covered half of the dough for later use and formed the remaining dough into a ball. I rolled the dough into a 10 by 15-inch rectangle.
- Then, I spread the sugar/cinnamon filling on the dough, leaving about an inch uncovered.
- I tightly rolled the dough into a log, starting on one of the long ends. I pinched pinched dough together to seal the log and trimmed the ends with a pizza cutter.
- Then, I cut the cinnamon-filled dough log into 12 cinnamon rolls using dental floss. Each cinnamon roll was about 1 ¼ inches thick.
- I used a 10-inch heart-shaped cake pan for this king cake. First, I sprayed the pan with nonstick spray. Then, I lined the bottom of the pan with parchment paper that I had cut into the shape of a heart.
- I placed the cinnamon rolls cut-side down and up in a single layer around the heart-shaped pan. Then, I placed a 3.9-inch heart-shaped ring in the center of the pan to maintain the heart shape in the center.
- I covered the pan with plastic wrap and placed it in a warm location until the rolls had doubled in size and filled the pan’s area. My oven has a proof function, so I used the oven’s proof function.
- I placed the rolls, uncovered, in a preheated 350°F oven for 25 minutes until they were golden brown. I removed the pan from the oven and let the cinnamon roll cake cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then, I inverted the pan onto another wire rack and removed the parchment paper.
Making the Frosting and Finishing the Sweetheart King Cake
To make the frosting and finish the Sweetheart King Cake, I used cream cheese, unsalted butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, milk, and Valentine sprinkles.
While the cake was in the oven, I beat room-temperature cream cheese and room-temperature unsalted butter together until creamy. Then, I added the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract and beat the mixture until everything was well combined.
I thought that the frosting was too thick, so I beat in a little bit of milk to thin it out.
While the cake was still warm, I frosted it with the cream cheese frosting. Then, I decorated the cake with the Valentine sprinkles.
This unique Sweetheart King Cake is certain to impress your guests. With just a few ingredients and a dash of creativity, you’ll have a beautiful and delicious Valentine-themed king cake ready for Fat Tuesday.
Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler. Yum!
Frequently Asked Questions
I’ve tried to make the heart-shaped king cake with cinnamon rolls before without using a pan. Maybe it was how I positioned the cinnamon rolls. However, the resulting king cake didn’t have the perfect symmetry produced by using the pan. It’s your call, but for me, if I’m going to the trouble of making this king cake, I want it to look as nice as possible. Therefore, I would highly recommend that you use the pan.
When I make a round king cake, I often use the traditional long dough log fashioned into a circle. However, I’ve been unsuccessful in using the traditional filled dough log for a heart-shaped king cake.
The dental floss produces a much cleaner cut in the cinnamon rolls than a sharp knife. You can certainly use a knife or even a pizza cutter, but the cuts won’t be as clean.
I like to use edible cake glitter which I got at Hobby Lobby on this Sweetheart King Cake. For one of the king cakes, I used red, dark pink, and light pink glitter, and red sweet hearts treat toppers (I think I got these from Michaels). For the other, I used red and dark pink glitter and jumbo heart sprinkles.
I used the other half of the dough to make a second Sweetheart King Cake. Sometimes, however, I will use the other half of the dough to make regular cinnamon rolls.
You can make the dough with a stand mixer or a food processor if you don’t have a bread machine.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- I highly recommend weighing your ingredients for this recipe (and all bread recipes, for that matter). There is a lot of variability in the amount of flour based on how it is measured. The only way that I know of to ensure consistent results is to weigh the ingredients.
- Even though this is a king cake, I do not insert a plastic baby Jesus into the cake. The reason is that I don’t want someone to break a tooth biting into the small plastic figure. Also, I don’t want to risk the plastic figure melting. Sometimes, I’ll place the plastic figure on the side though.
- If your oven doesn’t have a proofing function, do as I did in the past with my old oven. Using Julia Child’s recommendation, I would turn my electric oven for exactly one minute and 45 seconds and then turn the oven off. This produced the perfect proofing environment.
Other King Cake Recipes
If you’re a fan of king cakes, you should check out these delicious recipes.
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Sweetheart King Cake
- Bread Machine
- 10-inch heart-shaped cake pan
- ¾ cup (6 ounces, 170 grams) milk
- 4 Tablespoons (1.2 ounces, 34 grams) bread flour
Sweetheart King Cake Dough
- Tangzhong from above
- 1 cup (8 ounces, 227) grams milk
- 6 Tablespoons (3 ounces, 85 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3 Tablespoons (1.31 ounces, 37 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons Kosher Salt
- 3 cups (15 ounces, 425 grams) bread flour
- 1 Tablespoon bread machine yeast
- ¾ cup (5.625 ounces, 159 grams) light brown sugar, packed
- 3 Tablespoons (0.94 ounces, 27 grams) bread flour
- 5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- Pinch salt
- 2 Tablespoons (1 ounce, 28 grams) unsalted butter, melted
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 4 ounces (113 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
- ¼ cup (2 ounces, 57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 ½ cups (10 ounces, 284 grams) confectioners' sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons milk, if needed to achieve property consistency
- Valentine Sprinkles
- Whisk together ¾ cup milk and 4 ½ tablespoons bread flour in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly until a paste forms, about 8 minutes. The Tangzhong is ready when a spoon leaves a line in the pan. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
Sweetheart King Cake Dough
- Add the Tangzhong from above, along with the milk, butter, sugar, salt, bread flour, and yeast to the pan of a bread machine. Program on the dough cycle.
- When the dough cycle finishes, transfer the dough to a floured surface. Divide in half. Wrap half of the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a later use.
- Roll the remaining dough into a 10-inch by 15-inch rectangle.
- Whisk together the brown sugar, bread flour, cinnamon, and salt. Add the melted butter and stir until the ingredients are well combined.
- Spread the sugar/cinnamon filling on the dough, leaving a 1-inch border on one of the long sides.
Sweetheart King Cake
- Spray a 10-inch heart-shaped pan with non-stick spray; line the bottom with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Starting on the non-border long side, tightly roll up the dough. Pinch edges to seal. Trim the ends and cut into 12 cinnamon rolls, approximately 1 ¼-inches each. Place cinnamon rolls around the outer part of the prepared pan. Place a 4-inch metal heart-shaped ring in the center of the pan.
- Cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm location until double in size, about 1 hour. (See Tip 1)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Bake the cinnamon roll cake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a deep golden brown. Remove from oven. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Invert onto a wire rack; remove parchment paper and metal ring. Invert again onto wire rack; place rack in aluminum foil-lined baking pan with sides. (See Tip 2)
Cream Cheese Frosting
- Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add confectioners’ sugar, salt, and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth and creamy. If needed, add up to 2 teaspoons of milk to achieve the proper consistency.
- While cinnamon rolls are still warm, spoon on the icing. Allow the icing to drip down the sides and the middle. Sprinkle with Valentine sprinkles.
- Yield: One Sweetheart King Cake. (See Tip 3)
- I used the proofing function on my oven for the warm environment. If you don’t have a proofing function, use Julia Child’s method by turning on your electric oven for exactly 1 minute and 45 seconds to produce the perfect environment for the dough to rise. It doesn’t matter what temperature is set because the oven temperature only rises slightly above 100° F.
- If using a plastic baby, wait until the cinnamon rolls have baked before inserting it. Otherwise, it could melt from the heat of the oven.
- The dough recipe makes enough dough for two Sweetheart King Cakes. If you want to make the second Sweetheart King Cake, double the ingredients for the filling and double the ingredients for the frosting.