This post comes to us courtesy of writer and Williams-Sonoma creative consultant Laura Martin Bacon.
During Mardi Gras season in New Orleans, a lot of sweet talk revolves around King Cakes.
Folks love to banter about who makes the best ones, whether they should be filled or not filled, made French style or New Orleans style – and just about every other variation imaginable.
There’s also some friendly debate as to the merits of an old-fashioned coin or dried bean as the traditional prize versus the now almost-ubiquitous plastic baby.
From Epiphany (Twelfth Night) to Mardi Gras, these colorful cakes are everywhere: in offices, at schools, on household kitchen counters – and, of course, at the center of every great Mardi Gras party.
King Cakes have been a New Orleans tradition since the mid-19th century, as French settlers continued a custom dating back to 12th century France.
The rich, brioche-style cakes are decorated with a sugar topping in classic Mardi Gras colors: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.
The secret ingredient of every cake is the prize hidden inside. It started out as a humble coin, dried bean or pea. In the late 1800s, wealthy Louisiana landowners were known to use precious jewels. By the mid 20th century, the typical King Cake prize became a small porcelain or plastic baby.
One thing has remained constant over the centuries: whoever gets the prize in his or her slice of cake is crowned king (or queen) for a day. The lucky winner is granted good fortune – and has the honor of providing the cake for the next Mardi Gras celebration.
Almost every bakery in New Orleans has a signature version of the King Cake – but they’re surprisingly simple to make at home. If you’re looking for a sweet way to celebrate Fat Tuesday, try baking your own – and laissez les bons temps roulez!
Photo credits: Special thanks to the Hilton New Orleans Riverside for letting me barge into their kitchens.
About the author: Laura is a longtime writer and creative consultant for Williams-Sonoma and other well-known entities. She’s also the Culinary Creative Director of DooF (“food” backwards), an organization that uses multi-media entertainment, education and live events to help kids and families discover the magic of food. DooF explores every aspect of food – from flavors, history, science and cultural traditions to the exciting journey from source-to-table. Laura’s mission: to make good food fun – at home, in the classroom and beyond.