Food Focus: Mardi Gras King Cake

By: Michael Engle

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday as some of us know it. Mardi Gras is a traditional Catholic celebration, marking the final day before Lent and is marked by lavish festivities across the Catholic world. Meanwhile, in New Orleans, LA, Mardi Gras has evolved as a way of life, with parades being scheduled every day for a month in advance. But no discussion about Mardi Gras in New Orleans is complete, however, without mentioning King Cake.

King Cake is, in its most simple form, a rich, yet simple, dessert that is iconic to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Borrowing from Spanish and French tradition, modern King Cake closely resembles brioche; traditionally, the brioche is either left plain or flavored with cinnamon. It is, unlike its Old World counterparts such as rosca de reyes and galette des rois, almost always ring-shaped. All King Cakes are adorned with the Mardi Gras colors: purple, green, and gold, which respectively represent justice, faith, and power. These colors are most often accomplished by using colored sugar crystals, which are sprinkled over a white icing.

Recently, "filled" King Cakes have risen in popularity; the most popular fillings include cream cheese, strawberry, and praline. The most "traditional" filled King Cake, despite the oxymoron, is the Zulu King Cake, which features chocolate icing under the colored sugar, as well as a coconut filling.

In keeping with Catholic tradition, King Cake Season officially starts on January 6th, which is also known as "Epiphany" or the day after the twelve days of Christmas. King Cake parties are hosted daily in New Orleans during King Cake season, which lasts from Epiphany until Mardi Gras. Traditionally, each King Cake includes one hidden plastic baby figurine. This figurine traditionally represents baby Jesus. (Due to choking liabilities, many bakers will enclose the figurine in the cake package, but separate from the cake itself.) As per Louisiana tradition, the person whose King Cake slice contains the baby is recognized as the King or Queen of the Day; however, it is the King or Queen's duty to host the next King Cake party!

To learn more about King Cake, click here. From that page, you can also order your own King Cake to help you properly celebrate Mardi Gras. Though King Cake season may be ending soon, many New Orleans bakeries will sell and ship King Cakes year-round. In the meantime, laissez les bons temps rouler!

Click here to also read our Top 5 Mardi Gras Party Dishes.

Photo: Back to the Cutting Board and praline3001 (Happy Mardi Gras!!!)

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