A Sweet History of NOLA’s King Cakes

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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA–Bakeries across the city are selling king cakes by the droves as we kick off the beginning of the Carnival season. But do you know the history behind one of the most iconic celebratory birthday cakes in culinary history?

December 25th is widely celebrated as the day of the Christian Lord’s incarnation. God would now walk the earth in the flesh of man… or at least crawl until he learned to walk. Jesus was born and we would now call it Christmas day. On the 12th day of Christmas, on January 6th, three wise men would visit the infant king and bestow gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. January 6th is known as Three King’s Day or Epiphany.

Liz Williams is the founder of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans and says, “there were always two king cakes in France there was the one from Northern France which is made with puff pastry and almond frangipane. That is what we in New Orleans call a french king cake. In Southern France they make a ring brioche and that is also a king cake.”

Both king cakes existed in France quite harmoniously, but it was the southern regions of France that colonized New Orleans in the western hemisphere. In making the journey, the french catholics brought with them a sweet tradition in the 18th century. Traditionally, it was a fava bean that was hidden inside the cake; the person who got the slice of cake with the bean was considered king for a day. Over the years, McKenzie’s bakery innovated the tradition by hiding plastic babies in the cakes.

Every year, 750,000 king cakes are baked in the various bakeries across the city of New Orleans.

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