What exactly is King Cake? The pastry itself comes in a multitude of styles. The simplest form, noted as the most traditional, is an oblong ring of twisted dough, similar to that of brioche, that is baked and decorated with icing or sugar.
The king cake is known by many names.
Rendered as king cake, king's cake, or three kings' cake, it is a type of pastry associated with the festival of Epiphany, which is commemorated on January 6 and represents the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. The eve of Epiphany is widely known as Twelfth Night, in which the twelve days of Christmas are counted from Christmas Eve until this night. King cake season extends from Twelfth Night to Fat Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent. During this time, celebrations in the form of parades, masquerades, and balls are enjoyed alongside the famous iced and often filled cake. In many countries, the United States included, it is the celebrated dessert of pre-Lenten events, namely the Mardi Gras Carnival season. Its popularity is gained through the holidays, for its religious symbolism-- mainly the trinket offering representing the baby Jesus-- suits worldly traditions directly associated with Christmas.
The colors are usually a vibrant purple, green and gold, which are traditional colors of Mardi Gras. The Rex organization, founded in 1872, is known as the "King of Carnival" due to its defining traditions of Mardi Gras. Rex chose the purple, green, and gold colors in its founding year, honoring the visiting Russian Grand Duke Romanoff, who suggested them. Purple signifies justice, while green symbolizes faith, and gold represents power. And while the king cake's colors are a sure thing, there are many variants as far as filling and decoration.
Bittersweet Confections is known for its chocolate confections and specialty baked goods. Chocolatier Cheryl Scripter's rendition of the Carnival favorite comes iced with dark chocolate and festooned with purple, green, and gold sanding sugars. If you're a chocoholic and looking for a double cocoa whammy, they can also be ordered with smooth chocolate filling.
The pastry is not limited to sweet-based custards or embellishments, as the catalan Spanish king cakes-- the Roscon de Reyes-- are often topped with baked nuts and seeds. Cake Cafe in the Marigny takes a gourmet, savory approach to their Mardi Gras craftiness and pairs fresh, thinly-sliced apples with creamy goat cheese. The combination, matched with its colorful iced topping, creates a distinctive flavor that is as unforgettable as your first parade.
Randazzo's widely sought-after and oftentimes unattainable varieties are a local favorite. The bakery offers online order fulfillment and shipping as a way to ensure you get yours. Some of their best-selling items include the apple, lemon, and strawberry-filled Royal King Cake, as well as cinnamon-infused, cream cheese-filled cakes.
Swiss Confectionery's personal king cakes are up to par with their fine reputation of custom birthday and wedding cakes. The muffin-shaped sticky bread, topped with festive sugars and a plastic doll, are perfect for place settings or Mardi Gras party souvenirs.
In business for over 60 years, legendary Gambino's is a one-stop shop for anything sweet. Their seasonal insurance lends an overabundance of king cakes in a slew of filled and topped varieties, making them a safe bet for any last-minute shopping.
Metairie's famed Dorignac's Market is known for incredible wine and liquor deals, but what if you need pastries to sop up the booze? As their popular saying goes, "Yeah, We Got Dat!" Known for their stock of hard-to-find local provisions, they are guaranteed to fulfill your personal order or have the perfect cake ready for purchase during the Carnival season.
Haydel's, the original king cake shipper, whose colossal reputation for baked goods lasts the whole year long, has visually pleasing varieties of king cake that will satisfy all holidays. From green and red, to heart-shaped, to king cakes decked out in black and gold for Saints fanatics, all can be ordered through their online shop and even shipped internationally.
Regardless of the way you shape it, braid it, spice, ice, or fill it, king cake is as spectacular as its antiquity. The course it's taken throughout history is that of a magical parade procession-- one of bright color, legend, and tradition-shifting impressions. Happy Mardi Gras!