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History of Mardi Gras King Cakes

Mardi Gras Party Supplies

Written by: Ade Tiblier

Mardi Gras Kings Cake

It's seldom you find food with such a deep history as a King Cake. This fabulous cinnamon roll-like cake gets its name from the biblical kings that came to honor Christ on Epiphany (The twelfth day after Christmas). The king cake season is from Epiphany Day or the Twelfth Night to Mardi Gras Day. This year, 2010 Mardi Gras Day falls on Tuesday, February 16. Mardi Gras Day or "Fat Tuesday" is the last day of the Carnival Season (starting January 6) and it always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday (The first day of Lent).

The famous King's Cake was brought to the New Orleans area by colonist from France and Spain. New Orleans bakeries feature their own style in the variety of recipes... The most traditional is twisted or braided bread, very similar to brioche. This cake is then topped with sugary icing and decorated purple, green, and gold sugar, icing, and sprinkles. The purple, green, and gold are the traditional carnival colors. Purple meaning Justice, Green for Faith, and Gold standing for Power; these colors were chosen by the Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovitch Romanoff of Russia during a visit to New Orleans in 1872.

King Cakes in Southern Louisiana date back to the eighteenth century, but in more recent history some New Orleans bakeries have begun to add their own touches to the traditional king cakes by adding a variety of flavored fillings including; apple, blueberry, chocolate, lemon, pineapple, raspberry, bavarian cream, cherry, cream cheese, pecan praline or strawberry. Throughout history, each cake was said to have a small trinket, or "baby" hidden inside. A tradition from the Roman Empire placed a little bean inside; in 1870 this bean was replaced by a porcelain figurine and more recently a plastic baby. It was customarily said this bean, or figuring was to represent Baby Jesus. And tradition declares whoever "gets the baby or finds the figurine in their piece of king cake has the obligation to bring the next cake, or host the next carnival celebration.

Although many of us only picture the New Orleans style, colorful braided cake when we hear the term king cakes; traditionally they were not so. The French style king cake "La galette des Rois" meaning the cake or "wafer" of the Kings looks nothing like our kingcakes. The La galette des Rois is made of flaky puff pastry with a heavy center of frangipane. These French king's cakes also have a trinket hidden inside, but these figurines represent things resembling cartoon characters or even cars. Another twist on the known New Orleans style king cake is the Mexican, "La Rosca de Reyes" or "Roscon de Reyes" both meaning King Cake. The Rosca de Reyes is made in an oval shape with dried or candied fruit for decoration, commonly using figs or cherries. The customary figuring representing the Child Jesus is also followed in these Mexican king's cakes as well.

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Make Your Own King's Cake with this Recipe!

Recipe thanks to:

King Cake Recipe

1/2 c Water; warm (105-115 degrees)
2 Pkgs active dry yeast
3 1/2 c Flour (to 4 1/2 cups)
1/2 c Sugar
1/2 ts Nutmeg; freshly grated
2 ts Salt
1 ts Lemon rind; grated
1/2 c Water; lukewarm
3 Eggs
4 Egg yolks
1/2 c Butter; softened
1 Egg, lightly beaten with 1 tsp milk
1 Dime, dried bean or miniature doll
3 c Confectioners sugar
1/4 c Lemon juice; strained
3 ts Water or more
Green, purple and yellow sugars*

Soften yeast in water. Combine flour, sugar, nutmeg, salt and lemon rind in a large bowl. Make a well in center. Add yeast mixture, milk, eggs, egg yolks and combine completely. Beat in butter until dough forms a ball. Place on floured board; incorporate more flour if necessary. Knead until smooth and elastic. Stir dough in well buttered bowl and turn so all surfaces are buttered. Cover with a towel and let rise 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk. Brush baking sheet in butter. Punch down on lightly floured board. Knead, then pat into a 14" cylinder. Place on baking sheet and form into a large ring. Press trinket into dough so that it is hidden. Set aside, covered with a towel, to rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Before baking, brush top with the egg milk mixture. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Beat icing ingredients until smooth. Spread over top of cake, letting drip down sides. Immediately sprinkle sugars over icing in 2" wide strips of purple, green and yellow stripes.
*Colored sugar is sold in baking supply houses. If you can't find it, tint icing with food coloring.