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Posts Tagged ‘Solemnity of Epiphany’

What is a King Cake?

January 2nd, 2013 by insideout

When I came to Southern Louisiana from the West Coast for the first time, I was delighted but mystified by the King Cake. What is its origin? How does it relate to Mardi Gras and where did that baby come from?

Let the New Orleans innkeepers give you insight into this wonderful tradition – part of the buildup to the Mardi Gras season in Southern Louisiana.

A Brief History of the King Cake

Mardi Gras King Cake

The King Cake is a common sight in Southern Louisiana during Carnival Season

The “king cake” takes its name from the biblical story of the three kings who visited Mary and Joseph. The French Catholics of New Orleans celebrated the Solemnity of Epiphany  (commemorated on January 6th), which is the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. The Eve of Epiphany (the night of January 5th) is popularly known as Twelfth Night (the Twelve Days of Christmas are counted from Christmas Eve until this night – just in case you wondered what that popular holiday song references!) The season for king cake extends from the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas up until Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday;” the day before the start of Lent.

mardi gras king cake

The baby hides inside the cake for a lucky party-goer to discover!

New Orleans King Cake Traditions

Whether it’s a house party, tailgating or just a dinner with friends, if it’s Mardi Gras season, you’ll see a king cake on the table. Some organizations or groups of friends even have “king cake parties” every week through the Carnival season. Inside each king cake is a little trinket, usually a tiny baby. It is hidden inside the cake and if you are the lucky person to find the baby in your slice, it is your responsibility to bring the king cake to the next get-together!

The Recipe for a King Cake?

The king cake of the New Orleans tradition comes in a number of styles. The most traditional is a ring of twisted bread similar to that used in brioche (a French-style bread with lots of egg and butter giving it a rich and tender crumb. It has a dark, golden, and flaky crust) topped with icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green, and gold – the traditional Mardi Gras colors (which represent justice, faith and power, respectively). In 1972, a small bakery in Picayune, Mississippi called Paul’s Pastry started adding fillings to king cakes. The most common being cream cheese, praline, cinnamon, or strawberry. A so-called “Zulu King Cake” has chocolate icing with a coconut filing, because the Krewe of Zulu parade’s most celebrated throw is a coconut.

Will my New Orleans Bed and Breakfast Serve a King Cake?

Innkeepers usually love to participate in all the Mardi Gras traditions. If you come and visit us during carnival season, we will make sure you get a chance to taste a king cake!