If you’re not a Southern transplant like I am, you’re probably not very familiar with Mardi Gras, and wondering what on earth King Cake is. I’ve frequently described it as a “large, braided cinnamon roll.” A friend of mine who tasted it for the first time said, “it’s like a donut and a cinnamon roll had a baby.” It’s a round, braided bread dough, filled with cinnamon-sugar. The cake is then topped with a sweet icing and purple, green, and gold sugar. Rex, the King of Carnival, selected the Mardi Gras colors and assigned meaning to them in 1892. Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.
King Cake is the traditional dessert of the Carnival Season in New Orleans, commonly referred to just as “Mardi Gras.” My mom grew up in Gretna, Louisiana, which is just outside of New Orleans. Her mom taught her and her sisters how to make King Cake from scratch. This is the tradition and the recipe that was passed on to me, and the very same one I use today.
King Cake always has a small plastic baby trinket hidden inside. There are various traditions associated with the finding of the baby – at some parties, whomever gets the baby is the “king” or “queen” for the evening; at others, that person is then responsible for providing the cake at the next party, or hosting the next party entirely! At Bunneh Baking, we usually just say whomever finds the baby gets good luck.
Carnival Season begins on January 6, which is King’s Day. Mardi Gras is actually just one day, the last day of Carnival Season – it means “Fat Tuesday,” and falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday each year. Carnival Season is full of parties and parades, and contrary to what many people think, it’s not just the Bourbon Street debauchery. It’s quite the family affair! There are parades during the day all around the New Orleans area for weeks, and parents take their children. Many floats will throw not just beads, but small toys and stuffed animals as well.
As kids, my brother and I got to go to parades with our parents and grandparents when we would visit. The last parade we went to was in 2009, when we took my brother’s kids to a parade in Slidell. We all got lots of beads, and I got a fabric flower from a man on a horse. Many of the participants stopped to let us get beads, pet horses, and one even let my nephew sit on his motorcycle.
How big is the cake?
Here’s a shot with my hand for scale.
How many people will it feed?
That depends on how large or small you slice it, but you can easily feed 10 or more. Or just 2! You can pop the leftovers in the refrigerator and have it cold for breakfast with your coffee.
Why is it so expensive?
Bear in mind this is a specialty cake. The process of making one King Cake takes hours, and a lot of manual labor. The dough has to be kneaded, stretched, cut, basted, filled, braided, arranged, baked, and decorated.
Why should I get one?
They’re delicious! They’ll change your life! And you can get into a decades-old tradition of fun, parties, and frivolity. Introduce your family and friends to the joy of Mardi Gras. You can learn even more about it here.
Can I only order them during Carnival Season?
Not at all! Bunneh Baking provides King Cake year-round. I have a cousin who loves it so much, she used to ask for it as her birthday cake every year – in May! You can even request different sugar colors if you’d like, and get it without the baby if it’s for another occasion.