Twelfth Night sounds the alarm that Carnival is just around the corner, but it’s also the starter pistol for King Cake season. Throughout New Orleans, people have been eating King Cake daily for a week. Officemates take turns bringing in cakes from different bakeries. If they follow the tradition, whoever finds “the baby” buys the next cake. The plastic baby used to be a red bean when the tradition first came to New Orleans in 1870. The wreath of cinnamon-layered bread can be stuffed with cream cheese, strawberry jam, etc. and the whole works is topped with a white icing and sugar in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power.
New Orleanians actually agree on a lot, but who makes the best King Cakes is a topic of hot debate. People here love any excuse to talk about good food so most of these arguments are actually more like foreplay where everyone gets to say what they like before eating their next slice. A local “trending topic” is a general agreement that there should be a King Cake delivery service or a cake-of-the-day club. Some of my Pussyfooter sisters are getting together for a King Cake swap called, “Have Your Cake and Eat It Too”. Everyone will bring cakes from favorite bakeries and try each other’s. I’m devastated to be missing it.
But the generous hostess, Christine Miller of Two Chicks Walking Tours, came-a-knockin’ yesterday and “brought me a plate.” She’d gone to Dong Phuong in New Orleans East and brought me 2 huge slices of the coveted cake. Once I tasted it, I understood why it was worth the trip. Christine and I started the season this year with a slice at Sucre last week. Their glossy, glittery exterior is well-matched by a moist and well-layered interior.
Other coveted cakes include: Manny Randazzo’s, Haydel’s, Cake Cafe‘s Apple Goat Cheese, Hi-Do, Antoine’s on the West Bank and Tartine. But, citywide, I’d say the most popular cake is actually the one from Rouses. The grocery store is not only convenient with reasonable prices, the cakes are pretty darn terrific. And just like the nostalgia that makes people choose M&M’s over Belgian chocolate, Rouses is the King Cake most kids grow up on.
But if you really want to dive in and eat your way out, the 2nd annual King Cake Festival is for you. From 11-6 this Sunday at Champion’s Square benefitting babies and children at Ochsner, the festival offers food, kids activities and concerts all day. And for those of you who’d like to try this tasty treat but can’t make it to NOLA, several bakeries offer worldwide shipping!