King Cake History
Mardi Gras was first celebrated in the New World in Mobile, AL in 1703. A half century later residents of the newly established settlement on the Mississippi River called New Orleans wanted to adopt this American style of carnival. Being neighborly members of Mobile’s Cowbellion de’ Rankin Society ventured west to help out the newcomers. Le reste appartient à l’histoire. Today N’Awlins is famous for its Fat Tuesday celebration but other cities along the Third Coast have a century or more a parading under their belts as well like Biloxi, MS, Pensacola, FL and of course Mobile is still home to the oldest Fat Tuesday celebration in the country.
Many uniquely American customs are part of Mardi Gras lore like secret societies, floats and throws. Also a key element is the legendary King Cake. The King Cake is the heart of many a Mardi Gras party.
Little more than a Danish decorated with colorful purple, green and gold icing the King Cake has something to separate it from the average paczki, a baby. Each cake has a tiny plastic baby stashed inside. The tradition being that whomever gets the piece with the baby is the King of the party. The tradition, like Fat Tuesday itself, predates Christianity in Europe. That original Pagan ritual ended with the “winner” being sacrificed.
For the longest time King Cake, in a word, sucked. It was dry and virtually tasteless but of late Third Coast bakers have begun adding flavor to their King Cakes. Cream cheese is a popular ingredient now which adds both flavor and moisture. Fruits and fruit compotes are also en vogue. Even those with special diets can enjoy King Cake with recipes for sugar-free and gluten-free cakes now in abundance.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!