Mardi Gras is all about colorful parties, larger-than-life characters, big, raucous belly laughs, plastic Mardi Gras ‘bling’ and seriously delicious foods. One treat associated with the pre-Mardi Gras Carnival season is Kings Cake. Carnival begins on Twelfth night ( Epiphany) and ends at midnight on Mardi Gras ( Fat Tuesday). During that time, estimates are that New Orleaneans eat their fill of over 750,000 Kings Cakes.
New Orleans Kings Cake follows a tradition begun in France when bakers first created a special cake to celebrate Epiphany, the night when the Wise Men came through the desert bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. In these cakes a ceramic feve-favor or ‘bean’ (which represented fertility/the baby Jesus, etc., ) is hidden inside the cake, and whoever receives the ‘bean’ in their piece of cake is crowned King or Queen for a day. The newly crowned King or Queen must also supply the cake for the following year’s festivities.
This sweet treat first appeared in New Orleans in January, 1870, at the first Twelfth Night ball presided over by the Lord of Misrule. That evening a large Kings Cake was presented to the guests. The cake was cut and slices were distributed with much merriment. Pieces of cake were lobbed up to those in the balcony from the tips of spears. Unfortunately, the piece with the hidden ‘bean’ went missing, so later the practice of packaging individual pieces of cake in little boxes came into practice.
Today in New Orleans, for fear of damaging a tooth on a ceramic ‘bean’ a different approach is taken. The ‘bean’ of choice is now a miniature, plastic baby, and one per cake is used. The plastic baby is not hidden in the cake but sits atop the cake, in plain view, for all to see. In fact, the plastic babies are considered collectible and desirable.
Cake-wise, New Orleans Kings Cake is different from the French version sold in pastry shops in Paris. The French version features light, puff-pastry ring which is filled with a dense almond cream ( frangipane). It is eaten at room temperature or heated slightly.
In New Orleans, the cake is a round or oval coffee cake, that is braided, iced, and festooned with green, gold and purple colored sugars, signifying faith, power and justice.
Our colorful Kings Cake was purchased at Bob’s Bakery in Chicopee. Tomorrow, February 16th, is the last day to buy a Kings Cake until next year. We’ll be sliciing and serving tastes of this cake as long as it lasts tomorrow. Stop by for a taste – which we will not serve from the end of a spear, we promise !