History of Mardi Gras King Cake: What Is This Delicious Tradition About?

A gathering won’t be complete without a cake. It’s only fitting that the most regal cake of them all be served at the French Quarter’s biggest party of the year: The King Cake! 

The origins of this beautiful, oval-shaped confection are based on royalty and rich in tradition, as its name implies. So, where did this unusual treat come from? Read on as I go over the history of the Mardi Gras King Cake. 

history of mardi gras king cake

Many might be unfamiliar with Mardi Gras customs. Your first taste of king cake could come from a friend or coworker from Alabama or Louisiana. 

They may tell you that whoever gets the piece with the miniature plastic baby inside needs to deliver the king cake themselves next time. 

I’m sure this raises a lot of questions. Is that merely some made-up rule? Why is there a baby in my cake anyway? There’s a perfectly good reason for that. 

What Exactly Is A King Cake? 

King Cake? I’m talking about A ring of sweet pastry coated in icing and purple, yellow, and green sprinkles or luster dust. 

There is no right or wrong approach to preparing king cake. Some people prefer a more bread-like version, while others prefer a more cake-like version. 

Most are flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, or some heavenly cheesy concoction. However, they’re always circular with a hollowed-out center. Imagine a crown you could wear if you were down to party. 

Luscious icing, heaps, and gobs of green, purple, and yellow sprinkles are commonly applied on the outside. Those colors aren’t chosen at random. Green is the color of trust, purple is the color of power, and yellow is the color of justice!

Oh, and there’s always a tiny plastic baby tucked away in there. 

Related Reading: What’s the History of Mardi Gras?

Where Did The King Cake Come From? 

First, the name comes from the Bible’s Three Wise Men, who arrived with presents for Jesus (the baby) on the Twelfth Night. 

A king cake is served to celebrate the arrival of the three kings. The cake is also meant to honor them with a delicious homage to their jeweled crowns. 

King cakes are served on King’s Day (January 6) and last until the eve of Mardi Gras.

This wondrous cake is said to have originated in Old World France and Spain. It became associated with Epiphany throughout the Middle Ages. When Catholicism and Christianity were brought to the New World, the tradition evolved even further.

King cake and Mardi Gras go hand in hand. The cakes are available beginning in early January and continue through Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. 

The symbolic bean or baby baked into the king cake is significant in Mardi Gras celebrations. Why? The person who chances upon the piece with the baby is responsible for hosting the following year’s event.

Related Reading: See where you can get king cake in Mobile Alabama!

So, What’s With The Baby in the King Cake? 

There are two speculations to consider here. 

Because of the religious significance of King’s Day, some people believe the plastic baby represents Baby Jesus. Others, on the other hand, believe the famous New Orleans legend. 

They claim that during the remembrance of the king’s ball in colonial Louisiana, an extravagant cake was served with a bean or ring placed inside. Whoever found the bean or trinket in his or her slice of cake would be crowned the king or queen of Mardi Gras. 

Rather than a bean or a fancy ring, this plastic effigy is now commonly applied as a good luck symbol.

So, according to legend, the person who gets the slice of king cake with the baby inside is considered lucky. They’ll also be in charge of hosting and providing their own king cake for next year’s festivities.

Other Ideas in the History of Mardi Gras King Cake 

France has “Galette de rois.” It literally translates to “cake of kings.” It’s a flaky pastry cake fashioned from puff pastry and generally filled with frangipane almond cream. 

Before baking, a decorative design is scored onto the top, and the completed cake is occasionally topped with a paper crown. A “fève,” or bean, is traditionally concealed inside.

New Orleans’ king cakes are more like those seen in Spanish-speaking countries than those found in France.

“Rosca de reyes” is a ring-shaped dessert bread served in Spain and Latin America. Those confections can be decorated with candied fruit and a delicate layer of icing.

The Portuguese variant of king cake, “bolo rei,” is also ring-shaped and filled with candied fruit and almonds.

“Banitsa” is a traditional Bulgarian dish served on New Year’s Eve and other special occasions such as weddings and festivals. It’s made up of phyllo dough sheets wrapped around soft cheese and filled with charms and written fortunes.

The “vasilopita,” similar to the French galette, is typically served on New Year’s Day in Greece and Cyprus. It’s round and flat, with almonds on top, indicating the year. “Vasilopita” is frequently found with a coin baked inside it.

The one thing that all of these cakes have in common is that they all feature a small item concealed inside. Whoever discovers the item in their slice of cake becomes “king” for a day and is thought to be lucky.

Related Reading: Mobile Mardi Gras Parade Schedule – Check Them out Here

Final Thoughts 

Are you up to sampling a king cake? Maybe you want to serve it and partake in some Mardi Gras celebrations. 

You can always make it from scratch! There are a plethora of recipes online to suit practically any requirement or skill level. 

The fundamentals stay the same. You make a sweet brioche dough, then stuff it with cinnamon or a tasty cream cheese filling. Then you twist it into a ring and bake it. 

Remember to include the tiny plastic baby! 

After it’s been baked and cooled thoroughly, you smother it in frosting and a slew of sprinkles. But keep in mind that making this cake from scratch could take up to four hours.

Don’t feel up to spending that much time in the kitchen? You could certainly buy a king cake mix or a ready-made one from a bakery. But that’s the history of Mardi Gras King Cake. Enjoy!

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