King Cake Demystified

I live in the New Orleans area. Here, today is not Super Tuesday; it’s Mardi Gras. The shocking part? I really don’t like Mardi Gras. Oh, it was fine when I was a kid, and even into high school. Now though, I think of crazy, drunken tourists, the traffic getting home, and.. yeah, no thanks.

That’s not to say that there aren’t good thing about Mardi Gras. For example, my university is closed for the week. That can only be good. The other nice thing about Mardi Gras is King Cake, of course.

I wanted to attempt a homemade King Cake today. Unfortunately, half of my face is still swollen and numb from having my wisdom teeth removed last Friday. I haven’t quite graduated to solid foods yet. I have, however, mastered the smoothie.

Instead of a recipe, I’ll just chat about the King Cake, since many of you probably aren’t familiar with it.

First, King Cake is not actually cake. It’s bread. It differs from bakery to bakery, but is basically brioche rolled with cinnamon. Think of a really tender cinnamon roll.

The most traditional King Cake, I am told, is covered only in colored (purple, green, and gold) sugar. I vaguely remember eating King Cake like this when I was small. Nowadays, King Cake is almost always covered with a thick glaze and colored sugar. You can also get a variety of fillings. Cream cheese is the most popular, but other flavors include pecan praline, almond, apple, blueberry, guava, chocolate.. basically anything you can think of. I know of one bakery that’s doing a goat cheese and green apple King Cake this year.

What else? Oh yes, the baby trinket. Many people say it represents the baby Jesus, but I like the story that says some bakery received a shipment of cheap plastic babies and decided to use them in their King Cakes. The more traditional trinket, used in most other cultures, is a bean. Whoever gets the trinket is supposed to host the next party or buy the next cake.

Due to choking hazards, some bakeries have stopped putting the the baby in the cake. Instead, they include it on the side to insert yourself. The King Cake I have pictured here left it sticking out the top. Other bakeries label their boxes with ‘Warning: There is a plastic baby in this cake.’ Really though, the choking hazard is minimal. King Cake is soft and served in small pieces, so it’s easy to feel the baby if it’s there. Adults always check for the baby before serving children.

And there’s nothing more exciting for a child than the chance to yell, “I got the baby!”

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