If you’ve ever been in New Orleans during that oh-so festive time of year we like to call Carnival Season (leading up to Mardi Gras Day), you’ve probably experienced the joy of tasting a King Cake. While the rest of the country is still mourning the end of the Christmas holiday season, we’re celebrating the arrival of Carnival season in New Orleans. One of the biggest signs it’s Carnival season in New Orleans? Walk into any bakery or grocery store, and you’ll find a King Cake — a delicious purple, gold, and green braided cinnamon cake. While many follow the custom of eating King Cakes for Mardi Gras, they are often unaware of why and how this custom came to be.
History of the King Cake for Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Carnival season in New Orleans begins the Twelfth Night after Christmas on January 6th each year. As told by the Christian faith, the Twelfth Night is referred to as the Feast of the Epiphany, and celebrates the coming of the wise men bearing gifts to the Christ Child. It represents a time of feasting and fun. The popular custom of baking a special cake in honor of the three kings has taken place throughout the years, thus the creation of a “King’s Cake.”
Over the years, King Cake decorations have become more and more festive. At first, the cake remained just a simple ring of dough with light decoration. The basic King Cake has grown to a braided dough with colored frosting and sprinkles of purple, gold, and green – the traditional colors of Mardi Gras, meaning justice (purple), power (gold), and faith (green).
New Orleans Mardi Gras King Cake Customs
Many restaurants like to create their special version of a King Cake, resulting in various King Cake tasting competitions throughout New Orleans. The 2014 King Cake Festival in New Orleans was held this year on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at Champions Square at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, benefiting Ochsner Hospital.
Each King Cake comes with a small plastic, pink “baby.” According to custom, whoever cuts the slice of cake that has the baby in it, has to purchase the next King Cake. This process repeats until the end of Carnival season, on Mardi Gras Day, which is Tuesday, March 4, 2014 this year. Due to choking hazards, many King Cakes now come with the baby on the outside, giving the buyer of the cake the option to add it to the cake.