King Cakes are braided and iced cinnamon-roll style dough rings often associated with Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations in New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s hard to believe that hundreds of years ago, this cake started out as a tough, dry bread with sugar on top and a lima bean inside. Now, the sweet king cake, named after the biblical three kings and associated with the start of Christian Lent (aka Fat Tuesday), is celebrated all over the world - from France to Latin America to Greece to Bulgaria.
In the New Orleans Carnival tradition, the cakes are glazed and then dusted with bright, colorful sugar in yellow, green and purple, said to stand for power, justice and faith, respectively. These are the colors of Mardi Gras and if you ever attend the big party in the Bayou, you’ll see them everywhere.
The cake is often adorned with a small plastic baby said to bring good luck to whomever is served the charm in their slice of cake, and this person then becomes the “king of the feast”. Some “house rules” say this means the king bakes the cake next year and for some it means they have to throw the next Mardi Gras party!
King cakes are big, bright and beautiful. The colors and traditions make it a LOT of fun to bake, serve and eat. While there are many different variations on the king cake recipe, the one below is based on the classic cinnamon roll-style found at most bakeries in New Orleans. Whether you choose to hide the baby inside the cake or under it is up to you, just make sure whoever finds it is ready to uphold the tradition next year.
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