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It's the most wonderful time of year! That's right, Carnival season is officially in full swing as of January 6, which means it's time to pull out your ball gowns, masks, and beads.
A Little Mardi Gras History
Did you know January 6 actually has a couple of names? It’s Epiphany, also known as Three Kings’ Day, which commemorates the Three Wise Men visiting baby Jesus and gifting him with incense, gold, and myrrh. It marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas and kicks off the beginning of the Carnival season. Mardi Gras marks the end of the season. It's the final day of Carnival before Ash Wednesday, making it a time of celebration and consuming delicious foods before the fasting for Lent begins.
Carnival usually involves public celebrations, parades, and street parties–all great ways to enjoy some indulgence before fasting. And one of the best indulgences of Carnival season? King Cake!
What is King Cake?
This iconic pastry has earned its reputation through the centuries (literally–it's been around since the Middle Ages!) and has taken on quite a few versions over the years. Deliciously sweet, fluffy brioche-like layers mingled with cinnamon and topped with icing, it’s sort of like a cinnamon roll that’s been rolled into one large, oval ring. While traditional French king cakes (galette de rois) are simpler, sans icing and feature a rustic flaky crust, the King Cakes of the Creole capital can be found with just about every filling and in plenty of shapes. They’re usually topped with a white icing and sprinkles in the classic Carnival colors of green, purple, and gold. These three colors symbolize the Three Kings, and also stand for faith, justice, and power, respectively. Oh—and there's always a tiny plastic baby hidden in there too.
The King Cake Baby
Some say the little plastic baby is baby Jesus, and some say it’s just a symbol of good luck! The plastic babies are added after the cakes are baked, and don’t worry–they’re not small enough to be mistakenly eaten! A pecan half can also be used in lieu of a plastic baby if you’d rather go that route. If you happen to find the baby in your slice of cake, it’s said to be a sign of good luck and prosperity! You also get to be king or queen for the day, and may have to bring the cake next year.
How Can You Get Your Own?
For those of you lucky enough to reside in Louisiana, you can find king cakes at almost any local bakery. Luckily for the rest of us, many New Orleans area bakeries ship their delectable desserts nationwide, which means you can skip that trip to The Big Easy and get your king cake delivered straight to your door. You can find our editors' top king cake picks below, all of which can be shipped nationwide or picked up in store.
Traditional New Orleans King Cake
This brioche-baked king cake comes with the complete NOLA experience, including beads, doubloons, and the classic baby for good luck.
Gambino's Traditional King Cake Kit
Gambino's king cakes are a slice of New Orleans history pulled right out of the creole cooker. With recipes that are over a century old, the pastries that come out of this bakery are nothing short of delectable, and this cake is no exception.
King Cake Package
This bakery in New Orleans, owned and operated by the Cannata family, has been whipping up king cakes for 80 years! This cake is available in four different flavors and comes equipped with decorative beads and golden trinkets.
King Cake Package
Haydel's is a New Orleans institution, baking delicious pastries since the 1960s. Their king cakes come in every shape you could imagine, with plenty of holiday variations, though we're partial to the classic and the cream cheese varieties.
Poupart's is an authentic French Bakery that was founded in Lafayette, Louisiana in 1967. This traditional Mardi Gras king cake comes in two sizes and features a customizable filling: cream cheese, fruits, nuts, or a combination!
King Cake Bread Pudding
Commander’s Palace has been serving its famous Haute Creole cuisine since 1893. This take on king cake is made of custard-soaked brioche with toasted cinnamon, praline liquor, and purple, green and gold sugars.
There's more than a couple New Orleans bakeries featuring the Randazzo name, but Nonna's claims to hold the original recipes dating back to the 1960s. They offer a traditional king cake along with a variety of filling options like cream cheese and pecan praline.
Traditional Mardi Gras King Cake
Caluda's handcrafts their cakes in their Louisiana bakery to ship all over the country. They make six varieties, including a praline cream cheese that has our mouths watering.
NAKED KING Cake Kit
Don't be alarmed—by naked, they mean this king cake ships sans icing and sugar! Decorate this cake yourself so you don't have to worry about the icing getting smushed while shipping.
Traditional King Cake
Trust us on this one—the photo doesn't do it justice. Party Palace specializes in the classic New Orleans king cakes and offers a variety of fillings, including praline, apple, and strawberry.
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