The Mardi Gras King Cake

9122682With the start of Mardi Gras season I figured I would do a few post relating to Mardi Gras. I am going to start with one of the most popular foods during this time.

The “king cake” takes its name from the biblical kings. In Catholic tradition, the Solemnity of Epiphany is commemorated on January 6 and celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. The Eve of Epiphany (the night of January 5) is popularly known as Twelfth Night. 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.

In the United States, Carnival is traditionally observed in New Orleans, Saint Louis, Mobile, Pensacola, Galveston, and other towns and cities of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In this region, the king cake is closely associated with Mardi Gras traditions and is served throughout the Carnival season, which lasts from Epiphany Eve to Fat Tuesday.

The King Cake tradition is thought to have been brought to New Orleans from France in 1870. Now, as part of the celebration, it is traditional to bake a cake (King Cake) in honor of the three kings.The official colors of Mardi Gras–created in 1872 by the Krewe of Rex (will do another post explaining Mardi Gras Krewes) were and still are purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

A little bean was traditionally hidden in it, a custom taken from the Saturnalia in the Roman Empire: the one who stumbled upon the bean was called “king of the feast.” In the galette des Rois, since 1870 the beans have been replaced first by porcelain and now by plastic figurines. Today, the baby symbolizes luck and prosperity to whoever finds it in his/her slice of cake. In some traditions, the finder of the baby is designated “king” or “queen” for the evening. That person is also responsible for purchasing next year’s cake, or for throwing the next Mardi Gras party.

Samuel Pepys recorded a party in London on Epiphany night, 6 January 1659/1660, and described the role the cake played in the choosing of a “King” and “Queen” for the occasion: “…to my cousin Stradwick, where, after a good supper, there being there my father, mothers, brothers, and sister, my cousin Scott and his wife, Mr. Drawwater and his wife, and her brother, Mr. Stradwick, we had a brave cake brought us, and in the choosing, Pall was Queen and Mr. Stradwick was King. After that my wife and I bid adieu and came home, it being still a great frost.” The choosing of King and Queen from the pie, usually by the inclusion of a bean and a pea, was a traditional English Twelfth Nightfestivity. The cake was called a “Twelfth Cake”, “Twelfth-night cake”, or “Twelfth-tide cake”.

Some king cakes are made of a cinnamon-filled dough in the shape of a hollow circle with a glazed topping sprinkled with colored sugar. Hundreds of thousands of King Cakes are eaten in New Orleans during the Carnival season. Some have filling in the middle, for instance, cream cheese, apple, bavarian cream, the lists goes on and on.

I think I might go have that slice of king cake now.

Adela