Saturday, February 12, 2011

Okay, What Is A King Cake and who swallowed the baby Jesus?

In New Orleans and southern Louisiana, the tradition of the King Cake was brought to the area by colonists from Spain and France and is mostly connected with Carnival, which is also celebrated in the Gulf Coast area, especially in Mobile where Mardi Gras is celebrated on Fat Tuesday in the same manner as in New Orleans. King cake parties go back to around the eighteenth century. Basically, it is called a King Cake because the tradition of baking and eating them begins on the twelfth night of Christmas, which is, January the 6th.
The king cake comes in a number of styles. The most simple, said to be the most traditional, and the one I am enjoying right now, is a ring of twisted bread similar to that used in brioche topped with colored icing or sugar, usually colored purple to symbolize justice, green to symbolize faith, and gold to symbolize power. Some king cakes are traditionally deep-fat-fried like a doughnut, and there are many variants and many shapes and sizes and some come with a cream cheese, or raspberry jelly or praline filling. These kind are really great but chocked full of calories. Once in a Mardi Gras season should be enough with these kinds. Like beignets, king cakes are great with coffee in the morning.

 Earlier baby dolls as trinkets are documented in New Orleans back to the 1930s and were mostly made of china or porcelain. Today, the plastic baby is more common place and usually colored pink, brown, white or gold. 

 To be politically correct, for a while, 'cuz no one in New Orleans cares about being politically correct, and because some bakeries were shipping cakes out of state and didn't want a lawsuit, they included the baby doll separately from the cake to be embedded just before cutting and serving. "Foreigners" were concerned children could choke on the trinket while eating the cake though no kid I ever knew, and I knew a lot of them, ever choked on the baby Jesus. Some adults, I was told, would swallow the baby rather than admit they got it biting into their slice of cake. Those adults must have really not wanted to give the next party or buy the next king cake to resort to such drastic measures as swallowing the baby Jesus!

Most kids back then, in the fifties and sixties, got their cotillion lessons from parents having king cake parties. In my neighborhood, right after New Years day through to Mardi Gras day, all us kids from sixth grade through eight grade, had weekend parties. The girls got all dressed up and the guys had to wear a suit. We played the standard party games, maybe have a dance or two, to Fats Domino or Louie Prima and try to conduct ourselves politely as little gentleman and ladies... until the king cake was cut. Therese tells me that they never had king cake parties when she was that age. "That was for all those "suburban kids,"she asserts.

Anyway, the tradition at these parties was the same as for the adult participants celebrating in their own adult and scandalous way, which is, that the person who gets the baby doll is declared the King or Queen of the day and obligated to provide the next king cake or host the next party or both. 

Enclosed is a few local bakeries that have been making King Cakes forever. Check 'em out at:,,

Please note: No king cakes or bakeries were hurt in being displayed on my blog and no one person or bakery reimbursed me for my wonderful endorsement... but it would be nice!


  1. Hey Ben, when I was in France they had this celebration too with the yummy cake. And the French name for it is pretty much exactly the English Translation (gâteau des rois). I rememember trying to get the king or wise man to become the king for the day--- or I guess that would be queen for me. That's fun to know they celebrate it in New Orleans. Makes me hungry too. Hope you had a fun time celebrating.

    BTW, do you have a twitter account?

  2. Nice post. As preteens Christina and I would pool our money to split a small king cake from Lawrence's Bakery. I still think that they made the best ones although Randazzo's is good. Haydel's is okay too.

  3. Betsy, we have one from the Avolastiti family living in Merrywood and they started a bakery next to Gus's. I don't know if they make their own king cakes, though they make great chocolate eclairs.

  4. I really enjoy reading your blogs!

  5. Thank you Elsy, I hope I can continue to entertain those who take the time to visit!