NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) —​​ It’s a major movement to shop locally, to help support local businesses, writers and artists this Holiday season. A great gift to fill pandemic stockings is the new book from New Orleans author, Matt Haines titled: The Big Book of King Cake.

New Orleans has a legacy of beloved foods with a backstory. On the 12th day of Christmas, the Carnival season begins. All around the world, there are pastries that celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. New Orleans’ birthday cake of choice is known as the king cake!

Nobody knows the history and flavors of kind cake better than Matt Haines. In 2017, he set out on a journey to eat over 100 king cakes during the Mardi Gras season. He repeated his gastronomy quest recently, to help him publish the literal textbook on king cakes.

“There are people that say Mckenzies is the King Cake for me! Tasty’s makes it now and that is the one that I want. That competes against this evolution that is always happening as people move to New Orleans from other places,” says Haines.

The Big Book of King Cakes compiles hundreds of king cakes, where to get them, as well as who ships cakes, storied accounts of bakeries, the pagan beginnings of king cake tradition and an dazzling assortment of all the different types across the world.

“Amanda from Que Pasta NOLA, has a pop-up restaurant. She is originally from Miami and one of her parents is from Cuba. The other is from Honduras. She pulls in different flavors. She has a king cake called the Polpo King Cake. Polpo means octopus and hers has octopus tentacles coming out the top,” says Haines, as he turns the pages of of his book.

Traditionalism is celebrated in a city like New Orleans, but so in innovation and creativity. Some of Matt’s favorite cakes are the most unique. These are the cakes that take a brief departure from the origins of cinnamon brioche dough.

“In this book you will see this competition between tradition and evolution that is always playing out in these foods. Now we have a guava cream cheese king cake because so many people from Honduras over the last decade have moved here. I fell in love with Nana Randazzos king cake because they have this tiramisu king cake,” says Haines.

One of the best king cakes in the city is at Laurel Street Bakery and it’s a Nutella king cake. The owner, Hillary Guttman learned quite a bit from her mom. Her king cake begins with a cinnamon roll dough and like the rest of the offerings in her bakery, the king cake is done beautifully with an artisan’s touch.

Between, cricket topped cakes from the Audubon Zoo and dog friendly king cakes from the North Shore, king cakes represent the diversity of New Orleans. They may be sweet, but king cakes are alike to gumbo in that sense of being a melting pot of culture.

The Big Book of King Cakes is available at all major book sellers, and in local bakeries around New Orleans.