No Mardi Gras celebration is complete without king cake. However, if you’ve never bitten into one of these buns of deliciousness, you might not know there’s more to it below the surface.
It might sound strange, but a miniature baby is baked into each batch. You read that right, a baby.
So why’s there a baby in a Mardi Gras king cake? The answer might surprise you!
Let’s look and see!
The History of Mardi Gras
Historians often state that Mardi Gras started as a celebration of spring fertility in Rome. However, during the medieval years, Christianity swept the land, and religious leaders incorporated many of the traditions from the pagan celebrations into their observance of Lent, the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
As the period of Lent involves fasting and sacrificing, many participants feast on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The French later nicknamed this special day “Fat Tuesday” since many celebrations involved food and excess in preparation for the fast.
Mardis Gras has been celebrated in present-day America since the late 1600s. The first celebration observance in the United States occurred on March 3, 1699, when Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville landed near what we now know as New Orleans, Louisiana. He pronounced the campsite he was establishing as Point du Mardi Gras and held a small celebration.
Now, over 300 years later, Mardis Gras continues to be an annual celebration not only in New Orleans but also worldwide. Parades and other festivities are constant during the Mardi Gras season. If you’re in New Orleans, you can typically find family-friendly and not-so-family-friendly parades and events during the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday.
What Is a King Cake?
King cake is a delicious dessert commonly enjoyed during Mardi Gras celebrations. However, its distinct oval shape and brightly colored frosting help it stand out from other deserts. The unique treat combines a coffee cake with a French pastry.
This Mardi Gras dessert traditionally has three distinct colors. The gold, purple, and green are all significant. Green is for faith, purple is for justice, and gold is for power. However, the oval shape is also intentional and represents unity.
To make king cake, start with cinnamon dough and braid it together. You then cover the dough with poured sugar and colorful sugar sprinkles. Bakers add their unique touch, but colored sugar, icing, cinnamon dough, and oval shape are standard. While you can find some that choose to include filling like cream cheese, strawberry, and many other flavors, it’s not required.
These treats are readily available all over New Orleans from the start of January until Ash Wednesday. However, you don’t have to travel to The Big Easy to try it. If you glance through the bakery section of your local grocery store, you might find they have a limited supply of king cake during the season.
Pro Tip: Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans? These are 5 Reasons to Avoid Bourbon Street in New Orleans
Where Did Mardi Gras King Cake Originate?
Like many Mardi Gras traditions, it’s believed that we have France to thank for king cake. Many embraced the unique treat during the Middle Ages when Mardi Gras became more widely celebrated.
Many Cultures all over celebrate the holiday and put their unique twist on the treat. Historians believe the American version came to the United States in 1870 and resembles the Spanish and Latin versions more closely than the French version.
The name for the dessert originates from the Biblical story where the three kings visited Baby Jesus. Was this the first birthday cake for Jesus? Likely not. However, it was the dessert of choice for those wanting to mark the occasion.
Why Is There a Baby in a Mardi Gras King Cake?
King cake contains cinnamon and other delicious treats. However, a little something special is hidden inside each batch. A baby. It’s easy to guess who the baby in the batter represents. You guessed it, Baby Jesus.
Donald Entringer is credited with starting the tradition of baking babies into the Mardi Gras dessert. However, generations of bakers before used alternative options like beans and coins. However, the person who finds the baby in their slice of the dessert has a big job.
Finding the object while eating is considered a sign of good fortune. As a result, the person who finds the baby is responsible for providing the king cake for the next year and hosting the celebration. As if pleasing your taste buds wasn’t enough, you could simultaneously set yourself up for a prosperous year.
Pro Tip: While celebrating Mardi Gras down south, make sure you visit these 5 Can’t Miss Restaurants in New Orleans.
Can I Get a King Cake Shipped to my House?
If you can’t find a local bakery that offers king cake, you can have one shipped to your house. Will it taste as good as if you were picking it up fresh from a bakery in Louisiana? Probably not. However, with speedy shipping, it’s a fantastic alternative. Let’s look at a few places to ship one to your house.
Manny Randazzo King Cakes
When it comes to king cakes, Manny Randazzo’s are as good as it gets. While this particular bakery may not have started until 1995, the Randazzo family has been perfecting their recipe since 1965. Their Pecan Praline style earned the crown of 2012 King Cake King.
Customers wait in long lines from mid-December until Fat Tuesday to get their hands on one of these delicious treats. In addition, they’ll ship a select number of king cakes to customers. However, during the peak season, they exceed their demand and stop taking orders.
They offer traditional or cream cheese varieties, or you can go all out with a super king cake. It comes with 40 to 48 2-inch slices. No matter your choice, someone will be lucky to find the little plastic baby.
Paul’s Pastry Shop
If you choose Paul’s Pastry Shop, you don’t have to wait for Mardis Gras season to order a king cake and have it shipped. This Mississippi-based company has been churning out these and other treats since the early 1970s.
Paul’s Pastry Shop offers a variety of fillings and seasonal specials that can be perfect for any occasion. However, Paul’s Pastry Shop also includes a Mardi Gras cup, beads, doubloons, and a famous king cake baby hidden inside.
They have an extensive list of fillings that include Mississippi Mud, Strawberry, Italian Cream Cheese, and many more. These treats are too good to only eat for a portion of the year. Why not feast on them for your next birthday, graduation, or special occasion?
Watch For The Baby in Your Next Mardi Gras King Cake
While it may seem odd that a dessert contains a plastic baby, the king cake is a Mardis Gras tradition. Your taste buds will thank you! Whether you’re celebrating in New Orleans or elsewhere, don’t miss your chance to try this delicious delicacy.
Who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky to find the baby and have a year’s worth of good fortunes to enjoy. If not, you can still enjoy a delicious slice or two of king cake.
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