Tuesday, January 5, 2010

King Cake Season is Here!

In my home state of Louisiana it's traditional that January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, is the time when Christmas trees are taken down and Mardis Gras (Fat Tuesday) decorations begin to appear. It also marks the beginning of King Cake Season.

My wife and I moved to the mountains of North Carolina after Katrina. We arrived in February and my training with the new company began quickly. On my last week in the training store, I surprised the staff with a New Orleans King Cake from Gambino's Bakery. I've had many king cakes over the years and found that Gambino's is my favorite. Several of the people who had been so helpful in my training had heard of this delicious treat but never had tasted one. Others didn't have a clue. Sharing a bit of my heritage and talking about one of the few things I miss about Louisiana is always fun for me.

A king cake is not a typical Duncan Hines cake with two layers and icing in the middle. Take a small amount of king cake dough and bake it and you've got a cinnamon bun/roll. Take a lot more of the same dough, put it in a circular shape (like a crown) and you've got a king cake. It's more like a giant cinnamon donut! But there's more! Next comes a thick layer of white icing with purple, gold, and green (Mardis Gras colors) sugar sprinkled over it. Some variations include fillings such as cream cheese, strawberries, or praline. The final touch is the insertion of a small plastic baby. Now you've not only got a great treat or desert upon which to focus a party, you've got a religious feast! The circular shape represents a crown for the King of Kings. The baby represents the baby Jesus. The official Mardi Gras colors were chosen in 1872. The 1892 Rex Parade theme, Symbolism of Colors, gave meaning to the colors: purple represents justice; green, faith; and gold, power. Is it any surprise that the Mardi Gras colors influenced the choice of school colors for arch rivals Louisiana State University and Tulane University? When LSU was deciding on its colors, the shops in New Orleans had stocked up on purple, green, and gold material for the Mardi Gras season. LSU decided upon purple and gold, and bought much of it. Tulane bought much of the only remaining color -- green and thus the Green Wave.

Just as the birth of Jesus meant good things to come for believers, the baby in the king cake represents more parties! The person who is served the piece of cake that includes the baby is obligated to bring the cake for the next party! In South Louisiana, it isn't unusual to have one or more "King Cake Parties" every week all the way up till Mardis Gras. It sure is hard to give up king cakes for Lent! Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!!!


  1. Chip, thanks for sharing the full story in answer to my "what took a boy from the swamp and flatlnds of Louisiana to the highlands of NC?" question a couple weeks ago! We here in Knoxville welcomed a good number of people fleeing Katrina and many of them wound up staying here in the area. Thanks also for all the interesting details about King Cake - I've always wondered about the history behind it.

    ~ Dawn

  2. What a fun tradition. I love reading about snippets of information like this, thanks Chip.