I have one week left of my first New Orleans Carnival. Ever. I have eaten 46 King Cakes. My mama would most definitely not approve.
I’m a New Orleans transplant. I was born in Washington, D.C., where we call our Mamas “Mom,” and the average work commuter wears jogging shoes with their pantsuits to literally run to the office. The majority of DCites probably don’t even KNOW what a streetcar is (not to mention, “relaxation”). Needless to say, the Big Move to the Big Easy has presented many changes.
Flash forward half a year from my move, and suddenly everyone around me says “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” What’s this? As a Jewish girl I’m not totally clued in on everything Christmas, but I’m pretty sure Santa has packed up his bags and headed to the Bahamas already. “No, no honey,” one of my born and raised New Orleanian coworkers assured me. “Not Christmas. Carnival season! King’s Day officially marks the countdown to Mardi Gras. It’s the most wonderful time of the year in the most wonderful city in the world!”
Carnival Season. KING CAKE SEASON. Now, THIS is something I can get behind. I’ve only had King Cake twice in my life before: a King Cake cupcake I bought myself when I learned I was moving down to New Orleans, and a few drunken fingerfuls of a Rouse’s strawberry King Cake at a pregame back in September. By no means expert status. I instinctively knew that I had a lot of sugary loaves to experience before I could understand the uniquely NOLA joy of Carnival.
In an attempt to fit in and become a true New Orleanian, I am trying to find the best King Cake in New Orleans. I’ve fallen for New Orleans these past few months, so I’m hoping this King Cake survey will also function as somewhat of a humble love letter to this city: “I love you, I’m new to this thing, but I just want to spend as much time as possible getting to know as much of you as I can. Also, I will go to dinner with your parents if you ask me to, but if you leave the toilet seat up and I fall in again so help me God…”
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, I’m a teacher. A cohort of parents trust me to take care of and teach their 6th-grade students every day. I’m commissioning my kids to bring in their favorite King Cake this month. In addition to my personal ventures to learn NOLA King Cake, I’ll be getting samples from the best experts there are: New Orleans raised, sugar-crazed, hyper for days, miniature-sized adults who would eat King Cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if they could.
Here goes nothing.
KING CAKE 1: Manny Randazzo’s Traditional Small King Cake
Early on King’s Day, maybe 10:30 am, Delaney and I pull up to Manny Randazzo’s in Metairie. The line is already around the block. We chose to go to Manny Randazzo’s first because of its reputation as the must do, classic King Cake. Manny Randazzo’s has been around since 1965, and you can find Randazzo’s Cakes for sale throughout the city.
As we stood in line, we chatted with two very fashionable women in front of us who said they were in Muses Krewe. How authentic New Orleans! The policeman working the door shouted down the line that the small shop had run out of filled King Cakes an hour and a half ago, but we could still get a traditional cake. Delaney and I each got our own cake.
As we stared down at our booty, the idea for this King Cake rating system was born. How could we just eat this one and move on? After some quick googling about what makes a great King Cake we came up with 10 categories to rate on: general appearance, dough, icing, filling, taste, texture, level of sweetness (1 being not sweet and 10 being very), drunk food eating ability, level of guilt incurred, and an overall score.
We both agreed that the cake looked more like a cartoon carnival treat than something actually edible, but I guess that’s kind of the point for Carnival Season. The dough was extremely moist and cinnamony, and we only rated down the icing because it was spread unevenly. I noted, “I COULD SLEEP ON THIS,” when rating the texture, and Delaney noted that the cake wasn’t “too sweet, but after I feel the need to eat a large piece of broccoli and tofu.” Overall, we agreed it was a very enjoyable first King Cake, if a little basic. It’s easy to tell why it’s a NOLA essential: a family owned, Carnival inspired, classic.
KING CAKE 2: Dong Phuong’s Cream Cheese King Cake
Sweet baby Jesus in a King Cake, this cake was MIND BLOWING. I know I’m not breaking any ground here; Dong Phuong’s is consistently rated as one of if not the best in New Orleans.
The school I work at is in New Orleans East, so I knew I had to hit up Dong Phuong’s early on in my King Cake tasting ventures. I made the 30-minute round trip journey during my lunch break, and dropped an extra $2.25 for one of their incredible Banh Mi’s while I was at it. I was worried that, due to reputation, the bakery would be out of King Cake, but I was surprisingly pleased. Dong Phuong’s has adjusted to its growing fame as the best King Cake vendor in New Orleans, and they had a stack of both Cinnamon and Cream Cheese cakes available to grab as soon as you walked in the door. I grabbed the Cream Cheese.
Although I wanted to save the entire cake for myself, the cake was quite large, and I’m trying to get my coworkers to like me more, so I opened it up at a grade team meeting. It resulted in half the cake being devoured by the end of the hour, but I also got some extra ratings from my coworkers who are much more seasoned in the art of King Cake.
We were in LOVE. I rated the cake down for appearance mainly because it was oddly wrapped in a dry cleaner’s type of plastic when I took it out of the box, and it was weirdly shaped. The taste, however, more than made up for any concerns I had about accidentally ingesting toxins from the plastic. If heaven exists in cake form, this is surely it.
The dough was cinnamony, chewy, and delicious, and the cream cheese icing made you feel full of love for life and full of self-loathing in the way that only eating a pound of cream cheese icing can. This cake was strong on the guilt, but extremely worth it. The guilt rating was only brought down in my coworkers’ averages by one coworkers who rated the guilt factor a 0, saying she has no “Catholic guilt.”
It’s worth noting that my only coworker who was born and raised in New Orleans didn’t finish her slice, and said she didn’t want to do my rating because the cake wasn’t a true King Cake. It was simply a cake with King Cake sprinkles. This opinion is mainly what drove my overall down to a 9 instead of a 10.
I ate about a quarter of this cake on my own. It was hard for me to have the both self-awareness and self-control to admit I had to stop eating it at some point. I think I’m going to buy the cinnamon kind next week.
KING CAKE 3: Bakery Bar’s Doberge King Cake
Bakery Bar is right down the street from my apartment, and it’s a favorite of mine. Their doberge cakes melt in your mouth like BUTTA. When I read they made a Doberge King Cake, I was quick to text friends that this was a must try.
When I took my slice out of the box, I was pumped. THIS is what a beautiful cake looks like. One bite in, however, and I knew I was going to be disappointed. There was nothing bad about the cake. It was quite delicious, in fact. It just…. Wasn’t a King Cake. It was a doberge cake, with King Cake sprinkles.
This experience led me to beg the question, what is King Cake really? Am I being too much of a snob with my categorization? I decided to do some research.
Pausing Consumption: What is King Cake?
In NOLA we think of King Cake is our beloved Carnival season treat, but it actually originated in France. French-Canadian explorer Pierre le Moyne Sieur d’Iberville set up camp 60 miles south of New Orleans the day before Mardi Gras in 1699. He celebrated the French Carnival tradition while he was there (“About the Bakery”). The cake migrated over to New Orleans in 1870 (“About the Bakery”).
King Cake is served during Carnival Season. Carnival begins on January 6th following the 12 days of Christmas (McDowell). The Feast of Epiphany happened on this day in the Catholic tradition when the Magi visited the baby Christ (“About the Bakery”). This day is also known as “Kings Day” to represent the biblical three Kings (“About the Bakery”). King Cake season ends of Mardi Gras, which is the last day before lent (“About the Bakery”).
In 1872, the Krewe of Rex chose the official colors of Mardi Gras (“About the Bakery”). Those colors, purple, gold, and green, are traditionally found on all King Cakes along with a light glaze (McDowell). The purple represents justice, the gold represents power, and the green represents faith (Wyatt). Cakes also traditionally have a baby inside, which will represent the baby Jesus (Wyatt). The person who ends up with the in their slice has to buy the next cake, which, in a very New Orleans style, leads to a continuation of the party (McDowell).
King Cake may find its time to shine during Carnival, but its influence can be felt on New Orleans all year round. The New Orleans’ Pelicans NBA team break out a 2nd “King Cake” mascot during Carnival season, and our AAA baseball team is named the Babycakes all year round. King Cake combines celebration, religion, and the uniqueness of New Orleans (Wyatt).
KING CAKE 4: La Boulangerie Strawberry Almond Mini King Cake from Cochon Butcher
This was a King Cake, alright. A good King Cake? Not so much.
I had high hopes when I pulled the sparkly, shiny, sprinkle covered cake out of my box, but I soon learned the beads were just distractions for the disaster underneath. It tasted like the breakfast pastry that’s always leftover at a hotel’s continental breakfast. You know the one. My friend called it “a dry muffin with sprinkles dumped all over it.”
I give high scores for the filling: the strawberry almond was like a tasty jam that would definitely make it onto my PB&J. The drunk food eating ability was also high, considering I ate about half of the cake in my bed alone after a depressed day at work. The guilt factor is high only because I knew it wasn’t good enough to eat that much.
Disappointment, disappointment indeed. They did have multiple other flavors. Maybe I should try another one to give Cochon Butcher a fair shake. But do THEY give PIGS a fair shake? That is the real question.
(Did I mention I’m a vegetarian?)
KING CAKE 5: NOCCA’s Satsuma Almond King Cake
Early on Saturday morning I wandered into the Rex Den, somewhat on impulse, to attend their Educator’s float viewing Open House. They promised food and coffee, but I had no King Cake expectations, just expectations for somewhat weak Joe and a fruit platter.
However, when I turned the corner to the food table, I found three young chefs with NOCCA waiting for me, serving slices of their Satsuma Almond King Cake. NOCCA is the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and it provides pre-professional arts training for young talent in the area. I happily took a slice of what they called “King Cake,” even though it didn’t look like one.
It tasted like the type of sweet someone who eats Fiber One for breakfast would eat. Sophisticated, yet still time to party with a sliver of almond fun. I happily noshed on the flaky pastry as I walked through the Den and examined the floats that celebrated 300 years of New Orleans history.
The floats blew me away. The cake was a nice pleasantry on top of that. I don’t think it qualifies as King Cake, however, and I won’t be craving it again anytime soon. My friend said, “it’s not as much of a drunk food. Gotta have some frosting for drunk food,” and it was a “different style but it was nice.” Nice is fine, but King Cake should be next level.
KING CAKE 6: La Louisiane Bakery’s King Cake from Treme Coffeehouse
This cake LOOKS like King Cake, or at least what I would expect a King Cake to look like on TV. When I wandered into Treme Coffeehouse to lesson plan one Saturday and saw a slab of this baby swaddled in Glad King Wrap, I was immediately enticed.
When I purchased a large drip coffee and the King Cake, the cashier explained to me that they don’t make the King Cake, but rather buy it from La Louisiane bakery. Located just outside New Orleans in Harahan, Lousiana, La Louisiane bakery, my cashier explained, makes the King Cakes for Roberts (confirm).
I was very excited for this fluffy looking cake, but my heart sank as soon as my plastic spoon bounced back as I tried to dig it into the rubbery dough. My guilt was only high because I shouldn’t have eaten so much of it as I did.
KING CAKE 7: Willa Jean’s King Cake
Early Monday morning of Martin Luther King Day, my Teach For America corps met for a day of service with Uncommon Construction, a non-profit group that gives students school credit to learn how to and then build houses in New Orleans.
“I bet they have those wet muffins in plastic,” my friend China joked, as we walked up to the breakfast tent. They did. They also had bananas and grits. My friend Maggie, however, had other plans.
Maggie showed up with a to go tin of Willa Jean’s King Cake, and I dug in. I knew immediately this one would be a top contender. It has the heft and flavor of a gooey Cinnabun with the chicness that only Willa Jean can bring to the table. The appearance seemed more appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day than Mardi Gras, and it reminded me of a cupcake brunch during my sorority days (Go Kappa Delta! Go green! Go white!). It was topped with a crème brulee style sugar. It was fairly out of this world.
Week 1 Summary
Oh, sweet Gas-X, you’ve done me well this week. My stomach was not ready for the influx of sugar, butter, and unnaturally-hued sprinkles, no matter how delicious. Like all sinful desires, King Cake, I’ve learned, has its punishments along with its joys.
Dong Phuong’s, as expected, took the cake of cakes. However, Willa Jean was a close second. I wanted to like Manny Randazzo’s more than I did, but it was very plain. I’d like to try one of their cakes with fillings. Bakery Bar and Satsuma Almond were fine, but I’d say it was a bit of a stretch to call them King Cakes. Cochon Butcher and La Louisiane were flat out disappointing.
However, it looks like my journey eating King Cakes isn’t done yet. In addition to my addiction just getting started, I posted a poll to my Instagram story while shopping at Rouses. In a nearly 9:1 vote, my followers urged me to keep trying to find the best King Cake of all. As a millennial who struggles with making my own decisions without internet approval, there’s no question that I’m going to oblige.
See you next week, as I taste a King Cake a day, grow in both loving NOLA and in my pant size, and get that much closer to Fatter Tuesday.
I’m back in the King Cake game, and I’m going to have to loosen the old belt buckle a few notches. And by old belt buckle, I mean the strap on my Mardi Gras fanny pack. I ordered a hologram one off of amazon Prime; I think it will be a big hit.
Regardless, week 2 of my King Cake search has begun.
KING CAKE 8: Shake Therapy’s King Cake Shake (as seen on @DavidNOLA)
I decided to start out my second week of indulgence by mixing it up a bit. How was I to mix it up? I was uncertain, but I knew it was likely to come to me, either through prayer or Instagram Explore. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and on Monday night, while scrolling, I happened upon @DavidNOLA ‘s post of him eating a milkshake “fit for a King.” I knew I had to have it.
Enter “Shake Therapy.” A fancy, extremely photographable, milkshake shop in Uptown, the shop serves make your own milkshakes like a Chipotle in Candyland.
When I asked for the “King Cake shake,” the server’s eyes widened. “You want the whole thing?” he asked in disbelief.
“Yes, the whole thing.”
He went and got an employee from the back. Out emerged Karli Winfrey, the self-proclaimed inventor of the King Cake shake. She said it made her excited whenever someone ordered her creation. Karli started the concoction out with homemade King Cake ice cream, and topped it with a year’s worth of calories: cinnamon toast crunch, marshmallows, caramel drizzle, whipped cream, a moon pie, you name it.
Final verdict: delicious? Yes. King Cake? No. Fairly inspired by the King Cake? Sure. Would I eat this again in the near future? Not unless I want to gain 300 pounds just in time for bikini season. Did I suck this baby down in a hot minute of sugary, cinnamon toast crunchy, heaven? You betcha finely toned behind I did.
KING CAKE 9: Gambino’s Traditional King Cake
They said that good friends are the people who support you in your goals and dreams. Knowing my search for the greatest King Cake of New Orleans, Maggie became that friend. She purchased 3 King Cakes: one from Gambino’s one from Pulp & Grind, and one from Rouse’s to make King Cake French Toast, and she invited over a krewe to taste the cakes and play card games. As soon as I arrived to her place, I made a beeline for the Gambino’s box.
Similar to Randazzo’s, Gambino’s is another King Cake hallmark of New Orleans. Gambino’s has been around since 1949, but the bakeries roots date back to 1929 when the “Doberge Queen of New Orleans,” Beulah Ledner, baked and sold cakes out of her kitchen in Uptown (About the Bakery). Gambino’s still makes her Doberge cakes to this day.
The Bakery had many locations around New Orleans prior to Katrina, but was forced to shut many doors after the Hurricane. They now have 4 locations in Metairie, Gretna, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette.
A cool feature of Gambino’s King Cake is they have a “decorate your own cake” option. They also have over 30 different filling flavors to choose from, ranging from Almond Wedding Cake to Chocolate Cream Cheese. Their cinnamon, Danish dough tasted Challah like to me. I wasn’t a huge fan of the icing, but this one truly looked like a King Cake.
KING CAKE 10: Pulp & Grind’s Nutella King Cake
This King Cake simply didn’t do it for me. It looked tasty, but it didn’t have the royal colors of the real cake. I was excited for the Nutella flavor, but the taste didn’t come through, and the dough was tough. To be fair, I have no idea how long the lag time was between Maggie buying the cake and me consuming it. It very well could have been from last Mardi Gras, and if I’m taking that into account, the taste and texture were excellent. I popped my slice in the microwave from 20 seconds, and it still felt like chewing on tree bark. The high point, the icing, was like chocolate ganache.
Maybe the guilt on each of these King Cakes individually isn’t too high, but combined, my guilt is skyrocketing. It’s reminiscent of the last time I made an appearance at Synagogue. Tomorrow morning, I’m going on a 13-mile run. This is the Type-A, DC girl in me coming out. Maybe if I plan right I can end it at Petite Amelie, so I can grab a slice of their babka King Cake.
KING CAKE 11: Rouse’s Praline Pecan King Cake
On Wednesday, I bought a King Cake from Rouses for my students, to jumpstart the cycle of my cherubs finding the baby and buying me more King Cake. Then, the snow days and low water pressure days hit. The Lord has spoken in more ways than one: it was time to eat that King Cake!
Going into this taste test, I knew I’d have to curb my pretentious bias against grocery store cakes. All my life, I’ve avoided the bakery aisle of grocery stores. Why shop there, when wallet-emptying, millennial hip bakeries exist? Rouses just proved to me that I have lived my life as a f*ckin idiot.
This cake looked how a King Cake should look, and the dough, although I had bought it 2 days ago, tasted like an **almost ** fresh out the oven cinnamon roll.
The filling, oh the FILLING. To be frank, I was not expecting any joy from the “Praline Pecan,” filling. Boy, was I wrong. It tasted like a gooey filling to a German Chocolate Cake, and I only rated it down because I wanted more of it and upon closer examination it looked a little bit like bird poo.
Rouses, you proved me wrong. I am now a grocery-store-cake-eating-convert.
KING CAKE 12: Sucrè’s King Cake
Can the glittery Sucrè King Cake possibly taste as good as it looks? I decided to head over to Sucrè on Magazine with my friends Delaney and Maggie to find out.
When we tasted it, we immediately realized that we had overrated previous cakes. Sucrè clearly rivals Dong Phuong’s as a top contender. Its appearance is unrivaled, obviously, and it also melts in your mouth as soon as you bite in. The cream cheese filling is to die for.
Why is this cake so good? According to Sucrè’s Chef Tariq Hanna, it is almost pure butter, with a dash of cinnamon and other less than healthy ingredients. The cake is dipped in a light glaze, and then sprayed with color to give it it’s iconic glittery look. This cake was off the hook amazing. It won’t be the last time you’ll be hearing about it in this article. Nor will it be the last time I’ll eat it this season. The downsides? There are a few. I would’ve liked the icing to have more flavor, but the filling can easily take center stage without having a counterpart. Also, Sucrè is just bougie and way overpriced. One of the powerfully amazing things about New Orleans King Cake is that it crosses lines of class and brings people together. Sucrè doesn’t do that.
KING CAKE 13: Sucrè’s King Cake Macaroon
This baby spin on a King Cake came free with our purchase of Sucrè’s limited edition Gateau D’Or King Cake (to be tasted and rated later). It was fun. I wouldn’t have purchased it with real money, but for sure with Monopoly money. Sucrè posted an Instagram that said if you plant a King Cake Macaroon and water it with a beer, a King Cake Macaroon tree will grow. Jury’s out on whether this is true.
KING CAKE 14: Bayona’s Praline King Cake
My fanciest Uncle of all my Uncles came into town for a day, and he made reservations for us at the iconic Bayona, a bougie slow-food restaurant just a block or so off of Bourbon Street.
I had already informed Uncle Marty about my King Cake
obsession search and had taken him for a slice of Sucrè’s King Cake a couple hours before dinner. When the dessert menu came to the table, it was obvious what we were going to get. Praline King Cake with salted caramel, brown sugar pecan streusel, cream cheese sorbet, and caramel GLASS??? SIGN. ME. UP.
When the cake got to the table, we were, dare I say it, disappointed? The cake boasted none of the traditional King Cake colors, and with it’s hard, crumbly texture, really just tasted like a good coffee cake. The cream cheese ice cream did WAY too much, and when faced with the reality of it, who really is appetized by glass? It was tasty in many ways, and I was disappointed when it was gone. However, just a few hours after a heavenly slice of Sucrè and at such a fancy restaurant, I really expected more.
KING CAKE 15: Cake Café’s Apple Goat Cheese King Cake
Some Sunday evenings, I meet friends at “The Fly” to watch the sunset. The Fly is the corner of Audubon park behind the zoo, and it has a great green space overlooking the Mississippi River. It’s exactly 5 miles from my apartment, so I sometimes run there and make one of them drive me home. This particular Sunday, when I showed up all sweaty, my friend Regan had a post-run treat waiting for me: a slice of Apple Goat Cheese King Cake from Cake Café.
She brought it for me because Cake Café has difficult hours for the typical working adult: it’s open 7am – 3pm. However, this Marigny café is well-known for this award-winning King Cake by head baker Steve Himelfarb. The cake looked cool, but it didn’t look super edible. In fact, it reminded me of 90s spin art. And can confirm: the icing was not edible; it was just gross. The dough was tough, but it was a 7 days old cake, and it was still tasty. The filling tasted more like a boxed apple pie or some Mott’s apple sauce than an artisan goat cheese apple, but it was still tasty. This cake wasn’t extremely sweet on the scale, but it fit the cake well. I’d like to try the cake again fresh out the oven.
KING CAKE 16: NOLA Brand Traditional King Cake
King Cake for my kids, take 2. With the many ice days and low water pressure days behind us, I decided I needed to purchase a different King Cake for my kids, instead of bringing in the quickly decaying cake from Rouse’s. I ran by the nearby Walmart at 9:30pm on Sunday night and grabbed the first cake I saw.
While the majority of my kids are more sugar-crazed than Willy Wonka before rehab, there were a couple grumps who gave only 3s or below. This is a Walmart cake after all. Some of them got super into my rating system and gave me food critic style adjectives instead of number ratings. “Excellent” general appearance, and “on point” sweetness, noted one. “It’s DRY!!!” noted another. Their “overall” score might have been thrown off by a rating of 100/10 and a rating of 48/10, but who am I to argue with the wisdom of the critic?
The cake did its job to build class comradery, but it failed in my effort to make the kids buy me King Cake. The ONE girl who didn’t even touch her slice was the girl I gave the baby too. She threw it out, and then told me it was too sweet. Likely story. She’ll see that reflected on her report card (kidding). At this point, however, I’ve spent close to $30 on cake for my class, and not one of them has gotten a baby. It might be time to abandon ship on trying to coerce 12-year-olds into buying me cake.
My friend who partook in trying the NOLA brand cake commented that it was “soft and yummy in most places but a bit dry in others.” She also said the taste was “nice and cinnamon with a bits of nuts.”
KING CAKE 17: Sucrè’s Gateau D’or King Cake
I pulled up to Maggie’s CBD apartment around 6:15, just in time for to chat about our days and dig into Sucrè’s limited-edition Gateau D’or King Cake before our 6:45 online class. We had purchased the cake together a couple days prior, and I’d been itching to find out if it lived up to the hype that Sucrè built around it. However, when I got to Maggie’s apartment, she pulled out a surprise: Frosè to go from Willa Jean. Between gabbing and drinking our cocktails, we didn’t get to digging into the cake until halfway through our class. I apologize to everyone in my middle school math educator’s course who had to watch me rudely wolfing down this cake on camera. Kind of. It was worth it.
Although it was a beautiful looking cake, there were not king cake colors involved. It had a metallicy hue to it. The dough was flaky and delicious but was too croissanty for me, and the layer of chocolate in the middle did not come through well. The icing was insanely good caramel, but too sickeningly sweet, making the entire cake too sweet. It just was too different from a traditional King Cake for me, too sweet, too much everything.
Late Night At The Ogden
I got home from school this Thursday, exhausted, and resigned to staying in for the evening and relaxing. As I scrolled through Instagram, an image from the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. I popped up. My eyes widened. The caption read, “Tonight’s the night! Head out to the O tonight from 6 – 8 p.m. for our King Cake Walk during #ogdenafterhours! We’ll have cakes from @emerils, @merilnola, @cakecafenola, @tartinenola, @caludaskingcake, @haydelsbakery, @graciousbakerynola, @mauricefrenchpastries, The Station Coffee Shop and Bakery, @breadsonoak, @pulpngrindnola and @bittersweetnola! Tasting begins at 6 p.m. and the winners will be announced at 8 p.m., don’t miss it! #oah #tastethesouth #kingcake #artsdistrictneworleans.” I had to be there.
I hopped up, and prepared the best way I knew how to eat loads of King Cake: ran 5 miles, didn’t eat dinner, and sped over camera in hand. I made a beeline upstairs to the dimly lit, swanky king cake room, and looked at my new heaven. Oy govalt.
King Cake, King cake everywhere! In a manic state, I ran around to table after table, trying to take a photo of each King Cake before they disappeared! Where to eat first? I decided to go in order of which cakes were vanishing from the Mardi Gras colored tables the quickest. Public (edible) enemy #1? Emeril’s New Orleans.
KING CAKE 18: Emeril’s New Orleans’ King Cake
This King Cake was simple. It dough was reminiscent of a good Shabbos Challah, and the icing of a tasty yet uncreative wedding cake. Perhaps if I had seen the cake in full form, instead of the remnants seen above, the general appearance rating would be higher. I happily gobbled it down and moved on to my next cake.
KING CAKE 19: O’Delice’s King Cake
The highlight of this one was the dough, but otherwise it was the hot mess that it looked like. Way too many sprinkles, way too much sweetness, and an overall weird flavor. I ate about half of the slice and then moved on.
KING CAKE 20: Gracious Bakery’s Cinnamon Filled King Cake
I’d been waiting to try Gracious Bakery’s cake for some time now. They have a shop on St. Charles near my apartment. This looked cute, but the dough was just a bit too salty and croissanty. The icing tasted liked it came straight from a Betty Crocker can. Oof, not good enough. I’ll need to taste another cake from here to be convinced.
KING CAKE 21: Breads on Oak’s King Cake
I also was excited to try this King Cake, because Breads on Oak was rated as one of the best Po Boys at the Po Boy Fest earlier in the year. This one looked great, and had a delicious filling that tasted like juicy charosets. In fact, all the components individually were great, but together the cake was just weird. In fact, it had a mild parmesan cheese undertone. Once that got into my head, I had to move on to my next slice that would hopefully not remind me of a spaghetti dinner.
KING CAKE 22: The Station Coffee Shop and Bakery’s King Cake
This cake was saved by the icing, because the dough tasted like sourdough bread. What’s up with these oddly savory King Cakes? Give me the sugar! The filling had a tangy cream cheese taste, and the texture was crunchy? This was a hot mess of flavors going on.
KING CAKE 23: Bittersweet Confection’s King Cake
Bittersweet Confections, I was not ready for you. This cake looked eerie, ominous even, as I approached. For some inexplicable reason, I had an immediate picture of a dark forest in my mind as I took the first bite. BAM (Emeril Voice). There was a dark chocolate explosion in my mouth.
The filling was a dark chocolate heavenly mousse that overwhelmed the cake in a really good way. The sweetness was perfect. This cake is a major contender for best nontraditional. Dark chocolate in a King Cake? It blew my mind.
KING CAKE 24: Haydel’s Bakery’s King Cake
This is by far the King Cake of the classic King Cakes. It had this amazing lemony flavor that wasn’t too overpowering (maybe it was a lemon cake). The filling was a delicious lemon cream cheese. The texture was a little too bready, but I can deal for the amazingness otherwise. Load me up on Haydel’s.
A few weeks later, I was scrolling through Instagram, and I saw that one of my NOLA blogging idols, @showmeyournola, agrees with me. Haydel’s is her favorite of all the King Cakes in NOLA. Glad to see we’re on the same page.
KING CAKE 25: Meril’s King Cake
Deep dish King Cake??? BAM, Emeril, you’ve blown my mind once again (sorry, couldn’t resist another BAM joke). The icing was creamy and the dough was a delicious rum raisin flavor. It was a little runny, but it gave it a bread pudding taste. It was different, but what do you expect from a chic restaurant like Meril’s?
KING CAKE 26: Rocketgirl King Cake Donut from Hivolt
Following Late Night at the Ogden, I was King Caked out. That was until I went with Delaney to Hivolt, a coffee shop just off of Magazine street. Sitting in the pastry window was the most perfect looking King Cake Donut one could imagine. It was MADE to be featured in a music video for Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl, with a NOLA basic girl strutting down Magazine Street with this donut in one hand and a Chihuahua in the other. The dough was moist and crumbly with a cinnamon apple taste. The icing was nothing special, but a little thin. I could pop a solid 3 of these puppies while drunk.
King Cake Festival
If you want to feel like you are living the New Orleans dream, go to King Cake Festival at Champions Square. As I walked up to the festival to meet Delaney, I felt like a boxer walking to the ring for a match they had been preparing for their whole life. Here is where I will achieve the gastronomical feat of tasting upwards of 10 cakes. Here, I will find a new King Cake champion within the masses.
Due to the sheer overload of King Cake I plowed through in the short hour I attended the festival, I took limited notes. I also recognize this article is getting long, and we all have very limited attention spans now due to Apple taking over the world. Therefore, I’m going to keep my ratings punchy. Here we go.
KING CAKE 27: Balestra’s King Cake
Just as Delaney and I got to the front of the line for Balestra’s, a man in a green jacket approached the table. “Congratulations!” he shouts. “You’ve won the awards for Best King Cake Presentation and Best Non-Traditional King Cake.” Wow, expectations for this King Cake bite were just significantly raised.
While Balestra showed up at the table for us in reality, they did not do it metaphorically. It had some type of Winnie The Pooh sugar glaze on top, covering a chewy, goopy, marshmallowy, chocolate chippy mess. It was like some type of Girl Scout campfire dessert. My dentist would kill me for eating it. On to the next table!
KING CAKE 28: Winn Dixie’s King Cake
Ew. I should’ve known not to have high hopes for the table that was sending around volunteers to get rid of as many samples as they could for free. Don’t waste your time. NEXT!
KING CAKE 29: Kettle Works’ King Cake Kettle Corn
How many twists on King Cake can a city have? Kettle Works offers King Cake colored and flavored kettle corn for Mardi Gras. The corn was indeed festive, but it had no right to call itself King Cake, or honestly even take up a booth at the King Cake festival. I popped a few corns and moved on. NEXT!
KING CAKE 30: Royal Sonestra Hotel’s Caramel Apple King Cake
This cake looked like sourdough bread with apple sauce spread in the hole that forms in the center, and that’s what it kind of tasted like. The dough was just a sweet bread, there was no icing, and the texture was dry. I almost felt like I was eating something healthy? Get out of my article, healthy food masquerading as King Cake! NEXT!
KING CAKE 31: Sierras Sugar Love’s King Cake
Ooh this cake looked SO cool. It had a solar systemy, navy purple swirled icing with glitter. However, that icing was NASTY. It tasted like pure chemicals. For the love of all things pure and Mardi Gras people, do NOT sacrifice taste for appearance. This one had such potential. This cake did, however, win Best Traditional Cake at the festival. NEXT.
KING CAKE 32: Mr. Ronnie’s Famous Hot Donuts’ Glazed and Chocolate King Cake Donuts
We’ve come upon another story ending in disappointment. These just looked fun and tasty, and then line was one of the longest we braved while at the Festival. It even won first place in the People’s Choice competition. I overzealously handed over 2 tickets to get both a glazed and a chocolate donut sample. However, Delaney rated it a Krispy Kreme Donut with Sprinkles, whereas I rated it a gas station donut. What’s so famous about this? NEXT.
KING CAKE 33: Rouses’ Cream Cheese King Cake
Oh no. Oh no no no no no, HONEY. After my shockingly wonderful Praline Pecan Rouses’ experience, I popped a bite of the cream cheese cake in my mouth with reckless abandonment. NOPE. The cream cheese tasted fake and way too sweet. Hopefully my next two Rouse’s samples would change the game. NEXT!
KING CAKE 34: Rouses’ Strawberry King Cake
Suffice it to say this is the first King Cake I’ve spit back up after putting it in my mouth. ROUSES, you had me hooked! What happened? Pictured is the bite of strawberry King Cake I spit back up. NEXT!
KING CAKE 35: Rouses’ Lemon King Cake
And this is the SECOND King Cake I spit back up. It must be the fruity flavors. Don’t go for them. Rouses, stick to the fake sugary goodness, not the fruit of the Earth please. NEXT!
KING CAKE 36: Krystal’s Kreations Chicken and Waffles King Cake*
I have to admit, as two vegetarians, we were not prepared to come across a Chicken and Waffles version of the King Cake. We asked for a Vegetarian version of the Kreation, but as it turns out, a Chickenless Chicken and Waffle King Cake is just an Eggo with a Strawberry on it. Everyone can appreciate an Eggo, especially if you are a teenage star of the hit TV show Stranger Things. However, can you appreciate an Eggo when you’re expecting King Cake? NEXT!
KING CAKE 37: Cocoa Bean Bakery’s King Cake
This one gets the highest marks for me of all the traditional King cakes we tasted at the Festival. The dough was straight delicious and cinnamony and the icing tasted real, which seemed to be a rarity at this festival. My only critique is too much sweetness, and the texture was okay at best. It looked pretty though!
KING CAKE 38: Pain Frais-Hyatt’ Key Lime Croissant King Cake
This Cake SHOULD have been the winner for Best Non-Traditional King Cake at the Fest, but instead it ended up with Most Unique. As a consolation prize, I’m about to rave about it in this article. Man oh man, I’m a sucker for Key Lime anything, and this Key Lime was off the charts. Key Lime and King Cake, unlikely pairing, no? I couldn’t get enough of it. The Key Lime filling was tart and perfect. Without the Key Lime, the rest of the cake may have been bland, but it had a great texture. Who really cares about the dough when you a filling so delicious to take to take the spotlight?
KING CAKE 38.5: Food Drunk’s King Cake Burger
This creation comes in at 38.5 because I’d sooner swim with gators in the swamps than eat this conglomeration, but that’s not to say I can’t appreciate a drunk food masterpiece. The line at the Food Drunk Food Truck was down the block, and shockingly, buyers of the King Cake Burger said it’s pretty good. The customer featured above said she got the same burger at King Cake Fest last year, and she’s been waiting to get it again. It won Most Likely to Replace a Meal at the Festival. This definitely is a 10 on the Drunk Food scale. What type of world do we live in, folks?
KING CAKE 39: French Truck Coffee’s King Cake
Even King Cake Queens hit the wall sometime, and come week 4 of Carnival, I found myself sick with the flu. Just days before Chewbacchus, I took some days off of school to fully recover in time for the Mardi Gras Bacchanal. On day 2 of Cabin Fever, I did what any sane sick person would do; I biked to French Truck Coffee for King Cake.
French Truck is one of the most beloved coffee shops in New Orleans. I bought their specialty, an unsweetened New Orleans Iced Coffee, along with my Cake for total French Truck joy.
I chose a sunny seat on Magazine Street and opened my to go box of King Cake. It looked somewhere between a Donut and a Pancake. The neon green, yellow, and purple sprinkles made it look slightly inedible. Underneath the yellow portion, it kind of looked like crusted up Garlic bread. I still had high hopes. The first bite tasted how you’d expect something neon to taste. Bleh. I flipped my cake around and dug into a particularly cinnamony looking patch. Better, but I wanted those cinnamon patches to not be sporadic. This King Cake was definitely the brainchild of an excellent coffee maker who was not prepared to delve into the world of pastries, and then forced those pastries into a King Cake.
These sick days are kind of nice…. How do I get a job with an exorbitant amount of vacation days? Oh wait, I have one. Scratch that.
King Cake and Champagne Tasting
Lukka New Orleans is a hip clothing store in the Business District. It popped up on my Facebook that they host an annual King Cake and Champagne tasting. Even though I was downtrodden by the flu, I knew I had to show up. When I walked in, I knew I was in trouble. I wanted every clothing item in the store, but it was all way over my budget. Focus on the King Cake, Alison. I poured myself a mimosa, as I waited for Regan to meet me there and got to work taking photos.
KING CAKE 40: Hi-Do’s
The first cake I dug into was Hi-Do’s. It had a crisp hardened sugar topping, and a banana-pudding like filling. The dough was fairly dry, and it was too sweet for me. It wasn’t my favorite. When researching the bakery post cake tasting, I learned they make Menorah shaped cakes for Chanukah, so they earned some brownie points in my book.
KING CAKE 41: Tartine’s King Cake
Regan went for Tartine’s King Cake first, and I tasted some of hers. It was much better than my slice of Hi Do, so I switched plates with her. “You’ll like this one better,” I convinced her.
Tartine’s King Cake was bready, liked a fresh Challah. It wasn’t too sweet. It would be a great breakfast King Cake. I ate it all, then we went for slices 3 and 4.
KING CAKE 42: Gracious Bakery’s King Cake
This one was good. I had already tasted a Gracious cake at Late Night at the Ogden, but this one wasn’t Cinnamon filled. The cake has a layer of Valhorna Chocolate in the dough, which was flavorful. The non-chocolate part of the dough was just bready and chewy. The icing was good, but you could taste the granules. I would still get it for a third time.
KING CAKE 43: Antoine’s King Cake
This was the best of the 4 at the tasting. The icing was hefty and flavorful. It was very sweet, and you could taste the granules of sugar. However, that level of sweetness worked for me on this one. The dough was amazingly moist, but didn’t have much flavor to it.
After we ate our 4 cakes, we hightailed it out of there. The clothes were cute, but if they asked us to pull out our wallets, I was going to be in trouble.
KING CAKE 44: District Donuts.Sliders.Brew’s King Cake Donut
I walked to District Donuts on a rainy Sunday morning after Chewbacchus parade. The streets were empy. “All of New Orleans must be hungover,” I thought. Then I walked into District Donuts. It was packed. I’ve found where the Sunday morning crew congregates.
District Donuts serves the King Cake donut sporadically starting on King’s Day, but it serves it all week long the week before Mardi Gras. I’m normally not a huge fan of a Donut, but this one was the right cross between Donut and over-the-top King Cake treat. It was large and fluffy, and filled with a cinnamon lemony cream. The texture was perfect: crunchy on the outside and chewy and moist on the inside. The guilt was out of this work; there was no way I could finish it. The dough part was a little flavorless, but the filling and light, lemony icing made up for it. It was too ornate to be the best drunk food. Overall, however, it was pretty phenomenal.
KING CAKE 45: Flamingo-A-Go-Go’s King Cake Daiquiri
Let me start off by giving a slight pitch for Flamingo-A-Go-Go: it’s a new bar in the CBD, they have an awesome atmosphere, and have you seen their marketing? Brilliant. They literally just put plastic yard Flamingos everywhere and offer you a free drink if you Instagram it.
The King Cake Daiquiri is a mixture of amaretto, king cake vodka, cinnamon, and vanilla ice milk. It looks like a delicious Daquiri with a fun sugar rime, but where are my traditional yellow sprinkles? The taste was surprisingly on point for a King Cake. It tasted like a vanilla cake batter with alcohol I would have loved the cinnamon flavor to come through more. It definitely was a one-time treat, but I believe it also fairly qualifies as an alcoholic King Cake.
I gave it a 10 on the drunk food scale but this is my only King Cake I ate that actually could get me drunk. Good thing I walked to the bar. Extra drunk food points for those onion rings it came with.
KING CAKE 46: Fat Boy Pantry’s King Cake Ice Cream
I’d been dying to try a King Cake ice cream, but to be quite honest, I’m getting a little King Caked out. I swing by Fat Boy pantry on my way home from the Daiquiri to ask for a sample and then run away.
Based on my one bite, I think King Cake and ice cream should stay separate. While there were real cake bits mixed in, the cake got mushy and gross. Let the cake shine!
What a journey this has been. My waist is a little rounder, my soul is a little more regal, and my heart belongs to New Orleans a little bit more. I don’t regret eating any of these King Cakes. Even the ones I spit out.
If I could have my best cake and eat it too, it would have to be Dong Phuong’s. No other cake came close. However, if I wanted to show a visitor a New Orleans staple, I’d take them to Haydel’s. If I wanted to mix it up and try an untraditional King Cake, I’d go to Bittersweet Confections. If I need to buy a quick grocery store King Cake, I’d go for a Rouses’ Praline Pecan. If I’m scarfing down a cake from a fancy restaurant, you’ll catch me at Willa Jean. If I’m like my father and hate cake but want a twist on King Cake, Shake Therapy’s milkshake just edges out District Donuts for me.
King Cake, I’ve found, is the culmination of the special personality that is New Orleans. It’s a little bit of spunk in a traditional cake world. It has its own magic that’s meant to be shared, and it can bring together the most unlikely of friends. King Cake is both an exciting night on Frenchmen and a familiar night at home eating Cane’s with your Mama. It’s wholly New Orleans.
New Orleans, I love you. In the last week of this Carnival season, let the good times roll, and let many a King Cake roll straight into your mouths. Laissez les bon King Cakes rouler!
Alison Cohen is a teacher in New Orleans East and a lover of New Orleans and King Cake! If you have a suggestion of a new King Cake for Alison to try, you can contact her on Instagram at @FatterTuesday.
- “About the Bakery.” Joe Gambino’s Bakery, Gambinos Bakery, https://gambinos.com/about-the-bakery/#history-of-gambinos, 2018.
- McDowell, Scott D. “King Cake.” Southern Quarterly 44. 2 (2007): 142. ProQuest SciTech Collection. Web. 17 January 2018 Accessed.
- Wyatt, Dustin. “To baker, nothing says Mardi Gras like a slice of New Orleans’ King Cake.” Spartanburg Herald. (2013): ABI/INFORM Collection. 17 January 2018 Accessed.
- … and a special thank you to all King Cake makers for graciously feeding me, and to New Orleans for welcoming me this year!