King cakes, a quintessential Mardi Gras treat, descended from a cake served by the Romans at the Saturnalia Fest. The Romans baked a bean inside their version, and ever since then all sorts of trinkets have been concealed in the cake, like plastic pigs, pieces of candy, and today’s tiny baby. Mardi Gras begins on January 6th, the twelfth night after Christmas, and the search for the plastic baby in the king cake signifies the three kings’ search for baby Jesus. Custom dictates that whoever finds the baby is said to have good luck for the day, as well as the responsibility of throwing the next Mardi Gras party (or at least supplying the king cake).
We have three versions of king cakes from New Orleans chefs to celebrate Mardi Gras. First, Kristen Essig of Meauxbar bakes a traditional French galette de rois. Her cake has a puff pastry crust that’s filled with an almond-brandy butter filling and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar. Meanwhile, Executive Pastry Chef Maggie Scales of Cochon Butcher and La Boulangerie bakes a buttery brioche cake with a cinnamon filling that’s drizzled with a vanilla sugar icing and sprinkled with purple, green, and gold sanding sugars. And Lisa White of Willa Jean fills her brioche base with bananas, toasted pecans, and a mascarpone filling with a smattering of caramel sauce.
From Kristen Essig of Meauxbar
From Maggie Scales of Cochon Butcher and La Boulangerie
From Lisa White of Willa Jean
Southern Sources for King Cakes
1304 US-80, Savannah, Georgia
Feast and Forest
212 24th Street North, Birmingham, Alabama
416 Treble Street, Durham, North Carolina
2406 Manor Road, Austin, Texas
611 O’Keefe Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana
Wild Flour Pastry
73 Spring Street, Charleston, South Carolina