NEW ORLEANS– All of the things lacking in the Mardi Gras of 2021 can leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth. One constant, even amidst a pandemic themed Carnival is the eternal craving for king cake.
Matt Haines is a local journalist and food aficionado. During the carnival season of 2017, Matt ate around 80 king cakes. He was on a mission to see, how many different types there are as well as which ones were superior.
In an interview outside of Boulangerie, Haines showed he knows a lot about king cake history and remembers the day his journey began saying, “it’s interesting because prior to the 1980’s you didn’t see much variety in New Orleans king cakes. Fillings became popular and then everyone had their own version of one. This intrigued me and on January 6th, I hit the ground running. I think I had about four king cakes that day alone. As I ate my way through different bakeries, it seemed that the king cakes were getting more and more creative!”
King cakes like much of the traditions of New Orleans have a storied history, much older than the country of the United States and Haines says, “I think king cake is so interesting because it’s something that we are so engaged with during these one to two months of carnival and I don’t think people are aware of how far back this tradition stretches. We start eating it on 12th Night because of it’s reference to the three kings that visited Jesus, but people four thousand years ago, before Christianity in Egypt were celebrating a harvest festival that same day.”
As Haines consumed more and more pastry, his gullet would become the gateway on where to find the best king cakes in the city. He would share his findings and rate the king cakes for the people of New Orleans. “I put it on a google spreadsheet. I list who ships and who doesn’t and also what are the best varieties that different bakeries offer and how moist and flavorful they are. I then would grade each cake.”
Matt Haines teams up with the Historic New Orleans Collection this week to hold a forum all about the history of king cake, which takes places January 14, at 2:00pm. He loves to give recommendations through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He also has a website and a newsletter.