King Cakes, the traditional Mardi Gras treat, descended from a cake served by the Romans at the Saturnalia Fest, always have a miniscule, plastic baby hidden within. 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 the Christ child. 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 three New Orleans chefs to celebrate Mardi Gras. First, Kristen Essig of Meauxbar bakes a traditional French Galette de Rois that was featured in the February issue of the Local Palate. Chef Essig’s cake has a puff pastry crust filled with an almond-brandy butter filling and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar. Executive Pastry Chef Maggie Scales of Cochon Butcher and La Boulangerie bakes a buttery brioche cake with a cinnamon filling that is drizzled with a vanilla sugar icing and sprinkled with decorative sanding sugars in purple, green and gold. For the third version, Pastry Chef Lisa White of Willa Jean also bakes a brioche base but fills hers with bananas, toasted pecans and a mascarpone filling with a smattering of caramel sauce for a decadent end to a festive meal.
From Chef Kristen Essig of Meauxbar
in New Orleans
From Pastry Chef Maggie Scales of Cochon Butcher and La Boulangerie in New Orleans
From Pastry Chef Lisa White of Willa Jean
in New Orleans
Southern Sources for King Cakes
1304 US-80 of Savannah, Georgia
Feast and Forest
212 24th Street North of Birmingham, Alabama
416 Treble Street of Durham, North Carolina
2406 Manor Road of Austin, Texas
611 O’Keefe Avenue of New Orleans, Louisiana
Wild Flour Pastry
73 Spring Street of Charleston, South Carolina