With carnival season in full swing, I have been tempted to stop and buy king cakes all over. My sweet tooth is insatiable when it comes to king cakes. King cakes can only be purchased between New Year’s and Mardi Gras. (With the only exception being Rouses king cakes for other holidays that appear from time to time like rare unicorns.) My love for king cakes is so intense that my mom plastic wrapped a king cake to send to me. She two day shipped it to Scotland. To everyone’s joy, it was not held in customs and made it intact!
Unless you have tried king cake, it is hard to describe the importance. I am not talking about the dry pieces of cardboard sold at Walmart, either. King cake is as symbolic of Mardi Gras as Easter eggs for Easter or candy canes for Christmas. Let us talk about why…
King cake themselves are traced back to the original cakes baked at the Feast of the Epiphany. Originally the Feast was celebrated in Europe on January 6thin honor of the Magi who visited baby Jesus. They baked cakes with coins them. French and Spanish explorers continued to celebrate with these cakes on the Twelfth Night in their new country. Instead of coins, the bean or pea was inside the cake. The person who received the bean became king of the party.
What is up with the baby?
The first babies where actually porcelain known as Frozen Charlottes. The tale of Frozen Charlotte is very dark. The tale goes that she died from not bundling up despite her mother’s advice. The Louisiana spin, was that Charlotte froze looking for Jesus. (Dark either way!) They were popular in Victorian times. Now plastic babies are used since porcelain is too expensive. The meaning is much simpler with the plastic baby simply representing the baby Jesus.
Throughout my childhood we hosted class king cakes every carnival Friday this season. Since safety was lax, we would enjoy the cakes with the baby inserted inside. The student who received the baby was responsible for bringing the cake the following Friday. Many bakeries do not do that in order to avoid lawsuits and choking hazards. Some bakeries still brave it, and place a big warning label on the front of the box.
What’s Your flavor?
King cakes are available in any imaginable flavor and several flavor types. The original cake was a soft brioche bread with butter. The majority of the cakes today are a doughy cinnamon roll consistency. A few take a few interpretation and are almost like a sweet airy Hawaiian bread texture. One thing they all have in common is cinnamon is always a flavor. The round shape is used to easily hide the baby.
Even the filled cakes are not all executed the same way. Some more traditional bakeries pile the filling in the creases of the brioche braid. More commonly the filling is inserted into the middle of the cake like a filled donut. On the Gulf Coast, a fruit, cream cheese, or both filling is popular.
If you do not like cream cheese, there are plenty of other options. I have seen apple cinnamon, pineapple, and even chocolate. These are just a few examples. Rouses Supermarket has sixteen flavor fillings. Paul’s Bakery has a variety of flavors and combinations. As long as it is baked fresh with a good recipe you cannot go wrong!
Favorite King Cakes Around the Gulf Coast.
Dong Phuong (New Orleans, Louisiana)
This Vietnamese bakery not only makes delicious bahn mi sandwiches, but also my favorite king cake. They do not use the cinnamon roll dough or the traditional round shape. They use a soft dough in braids with a thick layer of frosting instead of crystalized sugar. These cakes are so wonderful that the bakery had to impose a two cake per person limit. The reason, people were buying them and scalping them for quadruple the price. Dong Phuong king cakes were being sold up to 80 dollars from third parties!
Dong Phuong is located in East New Orleans on Highway 90.
Le Bakery (Biloxi, Mississippi)
Le Bakery is another amazing bakery! If you get there early enough at their location on Oak Street, you can have your pick of all the flaky turnovers in the bake case. (I go for the guava cream cheese every time!) They also have wonderful king cakes. Their king cakes are the main ingredient in Chandeleur Island Brewery’s carnival king cake beer being released at the end of February for Mardi Gras. It will be served on tap in the brewery only.
Randazzo’s Camellia City Bakery (Slidell, Louisiana)
This bakery is unique because it still uses the soft brioche dough and braid their king cakes. Instead of the filling being a jelly consistency, it is a preserve with fruit chunks. It is by far my mother’s favorite king cake. Randazzo’s Camellia is different this way from the famous Nonna Randazzo’s inside New Orleans proper. Get there early, they close early and sell out quickly!
Mockingbird Café (Bay St. Louis, Mississippi)
My favorite filling is a strawberry cream cheese king cake. However, at the Mockingbird Café in Bay St. Louis, I will always choose their plain cinnamon king cake. It is fresh and flaky baked in house. Pair it with a coast roast coffee and it is the perfect combination.
A solid choice if you need a quick king cake for work or any other event is Rouses Supermarket. They are across the Gulf Coast from south Alabama to Louisiana. The supermarket sells thousands of king cakes a year and can ship them all over the country. All cakes are baked in store and not shipped from an unknown location. I enjoy trying different fillings like pineapple and lemon. They are certainly the most economical with a small cake being under ten dollars.
If you still haven’t had enough king cake…
We love our king cake down here! You can get king cake shakes and other treat throughout the season. I would like to suggest the following if your on the Gulf Coast:
- Tatonut King Cake Donuts
- Jacked Up Coffee’s King Cake Monkey Bread
- King Cake Sno Cones all over New Orleans
- Dolce’s King Cake Cinnamon Rolls
- The Greenhouse on Porter’s King Cake Biscuits