Happy Mardi Gras! Being a Louisiana native, I always get a craving for King Cake at this time of year. I have tried a few from out here in CA, but they are always pretty different from the real thing: tougher dough texture, skinny, elongated shape, different kind of icing. Still, I’ll take what I can get! Portos in Burbank makes a decent one. Gambino’s Bakery in Louisiana will ship you an AMAZING one.
For Catholics, the King Cake represents the three kings who brought gifts to the baby Jesus during what is called the Epiphany. For this reason, there is traditionally a small plastic baby hidden inside the cake, and whoever finds the baby in their piece is supposed to throw the Mardi Gras party next year. But as a kid, it’s just a fun way of being the winner! …Sadly, I have NEVER, EVER found the baby in my piece. I did get to keep all the ones my brother found and put them in my dollhouse. Lately, some bakeries have been declining to put the baby inside the cake, most likely in fear of choking incidents and lawsuits. (Which is a bit lame considering the baby is usually about an inch long. So unless you’re trying to swallow your piece whole…)
King Cakes are striped with purple, green and gold icing, to represent Justice, Faith and Power, respectively. The dough is fried like a doughnut and can sometimes have a delicious filling inside, like cream cheese or jelly. You can google lots of different recipes.
A little history from wikipedia:
“Related culinary traditions are the tortell of Catalonia, the gâteau des Rois in Provence or the galette des Rois in the northern half of France, and the Greek and Cypriot vasilopita. The galette des Rois is made with puff pastry and frangipane (while the gâteau des Rois is made with brioche and candied fruits). A little bean was traditionally hidden in it, a custom taken from the Saturnalia in the Roman Empire: the one who stumbled upon the bean was called “king of the feast.” In the galette des Rois, since 1870 the beans have been replaced first by porcelain and now by plastic figurines. The gâteau des Rois is known as Rosca de Reyes in Mexico.”
*I clicked on the Saturnalia link but didn’t find a reference to this.