King Cakes – The Cake with a Baby Baked Inside! [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]
Why would anyone bake a tiny baby doll inside a cake? The king cake is a succulent and fun way to celebrate Mardi Gras. It’s time to introduce everyone to this dessert that’s just a darn good time!
A few years ago, a friend from New Orleans introduced me to the tradition of the king cake. The large and colorful cakes are a part of the party fun at Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras (or Carnaval) is several days of eating, parades, dances, and partying. The celebration comes to a head with Fat Tuesday, the last night before the Catholic Lent season begins, and at which time the faithful are expected to fast and obey church law.
There are many different varieties of king cakes and countries around the globe have their own versions, with many being served at Christmas time. The cakes are usually decorated in Mardi Gras colors: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. Some of these high fat cakes are deep fried like a donut, while most are baked with some type of inner stuffing such as cream cheese, strawberry, or in true Louisianan style – cinnamon. The cakes are then coated with icing and sprinkles. I’ve enjoyed some on several occasions and each time it reminded me of eating a gigantic cinnamon bun.
Most feature a small, plastic baby baked inside which is meant to resemble baby Jesus. Finding the piece containing the plastic kid, designates that person gets to receive special treatment such as “king of the day” and in many cases is expected to provide the cake for the next celebration.
The host of the party can purchase a cake without the baby baked in, and insert into the cake just before serving to have an idea of where it is. You would not want to give a slice with one to a small child. These plastic pieces are barely over an inch and can be a major choking hazard.
While king cakes are primarily for Mardi Gras, novelty versions can now be found for just about every holiday from Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and Christmas. Some are even severed at football tailgating parties in the south.
The king cakes originated during the pre-Christianity days in Western Europe. A “sacred man” was chosen from each tribe and they would be treated as a king for a year. They were then sacrificed, with their blood returning to the soil to ensure a successful harvest. The sacred man would be chosen by the King’s Cake. Whoever would get the slice with the coin or bean would become the chosen one.
Once Christianity began to spread, the sacrifices were abolished, and the cake was turned into a celebration of the Three Wise Men bringing gifts for the twelve days of Christmas. The cakes are baked in a round shape to honor the circular route the three kings took to find the Baby Jesus in the manger. They traveled in this manner to confuse King Herod, who would have killed the child had he found it.
The cakes made their way to New Orleans with the French. In 1870, the Twelfth Night Revelers had a king cake as part of their annual ball. The person who found the bean in the cake would become king or queen of the ball.
Eventually, more and more mainstream families began to have king cake parties and it evolved into the tradition it is today. Children take them to school and businesses serve them at the office.
During the build up to Fat Tuesday, thousands fly off of Southern store and bakery shelves. Thanks to the Internet, you can have an authentic king cake delivered to your door.
The Showboat Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which has a Mardi Gras theme, will often sell small versions for around $4 during the celebration. This year, they celebrated with a king cake eating contest.
So, for the taste of a giant cinnamon bun or a gigantic jelly filled donut. Spare the diet for a few days and enjoy.
Name: king cakes
What: Mardi Gras celebratory cake featuring fruit or cinnamon and icing
Prepared: baked or deep fried
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: These are absolutely delicious and a treat not to be missed. Some fancier varieties can get quite pricey, but smaller versions start at just $3 without the frills. Typical mail order cakes look to run between $25-$35 plus shipping.
They are fattening though, so knock off quite a few of Weight Watchers points for downing a slice. But, everyone deserves a treat now and then. Most local bakeries do not display their nutrition info for these cakes, but figure a typical slice will run 350-450 calories and 9-13 g of fat based on an average of several store bakeries.