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King Cake!

posted Feb 18, 2012, 3:04 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Feb 26, 2014, 8:54 AM ]
Last year, I wrote about Mardi Gras music (if you missed it, you can still read it here by searching for Mardi Gras.) But music isn’t the only thing that lures thousands of tourists to the Big Easy and its festivities. New Orleans is a haven for those who love food, and menus include Red Beans and Rice; Filé Gumbo; Jambalaya; Shrimp Creole and Crawfish Etoufee. And ruling over all of it is its most popular confection – king cake – consumed by the carload from January 6 to Ash Wednesday. Eaten for breakfast, coffee break, snack or dessert, you’ll find it at school, work, meetings, rehearsals, parties and Mardi Gras balls.

Its tradition dates back to the Middle Ages, when the celebration of Epiphany became a time for pageants, presents, and the celebratory cake. Today’s king cake is an oval braided Danish cinnamon pastry, iced in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold; representing justice, faith and power. Fancier ones are filled with cream cheese or pecan caramel, though fruit fillings are for tourists! A small, plastic baby is stuck into the bottom, and the person who finds the baby is “king” for the day, and must either buy the next king cake or host the next party. (I once had to buy three in a single day!) And whoever gets a baby on Mardi Gras day is on for next January 6!

King cake is never served already sliced, and usually not with a plate and fork. Etiquette requires each and every person present to slice their own piece, no matter how small, and eat it with their fingers off a napkin, thereby assuming their own risk of getting the baby. And if you realize you're getting it while you're slicing, there's no sticking it back in because you don’t want to buy the next one. Carnival Karma will punish you.

If your local bakery doesn't have king cakes, you can buy one online from a variety of websites, though I prefer KingCake.com. You can also find numerous recipes online if you wish to bake your own, though you’ll still need to buy the plastic babies. And if you have a king cake, and you’re lucky enough to find the baby, make sure you bring the next one for all to share!