Winter is a special time for pastries. Mardi Gras season, along with the colder weather, brings with it a tradition of indulgence.
King cakes are inextricably tied to Mardi Gras. One of the ways in which people celebrate the official start to Carnival season (also known as the Pre-Lenten period) is with king cakes, desserts that typically come in the form of a sweet brioche dough in the shape of a hollow circle topped with glaze sprinkled with colored sugar.
This treat is often associated with New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. It’s believed that this tradition was brought to Louisiana by France in the 1800s after French-Canadian explorers introduced the Mardi Gras celebration to the region almost two centuries prior.
Purple, green, and gold are the symbolic colors of the king cake. Purple represents justice, green represents faith, and gold represents power. Each cake typically has a tiny baby inside made of plastic or porcelain. It symbolizes luck and prosperity to whoever finds it.
The king cake season is very important for local bakeries. They stock up for this booming baking season for weeks or months. Ovens typically run all day during the peak of the season, with bakeries constantly churning out fresh cakes for customers.
King Cake Hub, the brainchild of Will Samuels, is a retailer that compiles all the best king cake options in New Orleans into one easy-to-use shopping experience. Customers can order king cakes from a variety of bakeries through the website and then pick up those cakes at a single location.
Beginning Wednesday, January 6, King Cake Hub offered over 60 varieties of king cakes from nearly a dozen bakery partners. One of its partners, the Culinary Arts program of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), created a Satsuma Almond King Cake. They start by layering flaky puff pastry with rich almond paste, then add a bright, refreshing, citrus filling using satsumas (a variety of mandarin oranges).
Another King Cake Hub partner, Caluda’s Bakery, developed the Dragon Claw cake. It has a flaky laminate Danish dough (made with butter) and a cream cheese icing.
Willa Jean is one of the most renowned bakeries in New Orleans, as well as the rest of the country. Its pastry chef and owner, Kelly Fields, took home the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2019. The bakery’s Caramel Crunch King Cake has become quite popular with customers around Mardi Gras. It’s made with a traditional cinnamon sugar filling and topped with a crunchy caramel glaze and cream cheese frosting.