Thursday, January 7, 2016

It's Carnival Time: King Cakes

My sister-in-law celebrates her birthday on January 5, one day shy of the Feast of the Epiphany. So, what kind of cake does she have every year? A King Cake, of course. In Louisiana, Carnival season is like Christmas: the bakeries and grocery stores gladly rush in the new season and start selling King Cakes by the new year. You see, the fun is just beginning for us. While people are taking down their holiday decorations (too early, as those who wait until after the Epiphany will tell you), Louisianians are already indulging in those amazing donut cakes topped with gold, green, and purple sugar. They take careful bites, just in case the plastic baby happens to be in their piece.

And we aren't the only ones. Different countries celebrate the Epiphany by baking and eating similar cakes to celebrate the arrival of the three kings. Such cakes contain a trinket, a bean or a porcelain figure of a king perhaps. In Louisiana, Jesus himself is recreated as a plastic baby and baked inside the cake, waiting to be discovered (Yes, the Lord comes in the form of cheap plastic that I may or may not have accidentally cut through a time or two!). While cakes in other countries do not have official colors, in Louisiana they are usually topped with the colors of the Krewe of Rex which have become the official Mardi Gras colors—purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

From January 6 to Mardi Gras day, we share such cakes at school, work, home—anywhere and everywhere. Heck, the more cake, the merrier. As a child, I brought King Cakes to my classes. In fact, we usually had a King Cake every Friday in elementary school, and the student who found the baby was responsible for bringing the cake the next week. Closer to Mardi Gras day, we often had more than one cake to share, which was even better considering not every King Cake is equal. While I loved the cinnamon filling of some, one of my sisters preferred a more donut-like texture and taste sans the filling. Once, we even took the long way home from New Orleans just so we could stop at a specific bakery that had the kind she liked.

Since then, I have moved away from the state. Now, I experience a jolt of envy every time someone posts a photo of such cakes on Facebook. All is not lost, however. With the internet, it is easier than ever to order your own cake, no matter where you live. While some New Orleans bakeries like McKenzie’s have closed down, others like Gambino’s offer Mardi Gras packages that include cakes with a variety of fillings. Order one or more, and see which you like best. Just order before February 9, when Carnival officially comes to a close this year. After that, you’ll have wait until the next January to satisfy your craving for a cake made for kings.

Where to find a King Cake:

Or, make your own:

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