King’s Cake takes it name from the three kings who traveled during the Twelve Days of Christmas, to be with the Christ Child. So, everyone celebrates with many versions of the famed cake from the kings’ arrival date, January 6, until the beginning of Lent. Similar celebrations take place throughout the Christian world.
King Cake is a brioche, a Danish coffee cake made with yeast, many eggs, much butter and sometimes milk or cream. It’s rich! It’s festive! The dough is usually sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, fashioned into a braid, frequently filling is added, baked and then frosted with a fondant icing. All proper King Cakes are trimmed in bright purple, green and gold.
The fillings range from plain to filled with cream cheese, praline, apple, chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, but the religiously symbolic part of the cake is the little figure of the baby, Jesus, tucked into each cake. The person served the figure gets to make or purchase the next King’s Cake event held in offices, schools or parties between the Epiphany and Fat Tuesday when the more solemn Lent begins.
Many area New Orleans bakeries sell excellent King Cakes, and we find it has evolved in many ways. For one thing, they can be ordered over the internet, for overnight receipt, and you’d be foolish if you didn’t order a King Cake package. New Orleans’ Haydel’s Bakers’, money-back opportunity, all for around $50.00, is worded thusly:
“Mardi Gras Package includes your choice of one large Traditional or Filled King Cake plus… Haydel’s own Mambo Beat Mardi Gras Magazine, a king cake history scroll, one pack of French Market Coffee, Haydel’s Specialty Bead Pack, this year’s handcrafted Porcelain Collectible (while supplies last), Mardi Gras CD, Mardi Gras poster and a Mardi Gras cup. Serves approx. 30-35 one inch servings.”
The celebratory cake is further evolutionized in that most bakeries no longer insert the baby figure into the cake, preferring to enclose it separately and letting the cake presenter be open to any liability.
Should you wish to make your own Twelfth Night, King’s Cake, here is the recipe as it appeared in the Times Picayune fom the “Creole Cook Book,” originally published in 1901 … with a dozen eggs and a pound of butter King’s Cake ought to be festive!