Mardi Gras King Cake, A Long Way From Home
It arrived via overnight shipping late last night in an unassuming package. By the time the New York sun allowed for photographs, it was almost half gone thanks to myself, and one other person (I will not incriminate this person for their own protection).
It, a cloying cinnamon roll cake hugged by sweet, succulent royal icing, is the most edible symbol of Mardi Gras alongside the parades, beads and you know, what tourists do for beads. The oblong-shaped Mardi Gras King Cake is a tradition for any N’awlins native, and the only place to buy one is from Haydel’s Bakery. In her younger years, my mother worked for a bakery supply company that sold direct to David Haydel. So that’s that.
The season for this addictive delight begins on January 6th, the Epiphany or The Twelfth Night or King’s Day in the Catholic faith (the night the Three Kings of Orient bestowed gifts on the newborn Christ). In the very beginning a coin was hidden in the dough, and the finder was crowned “king for the day”. But enough history.
Side Note: If you opt for the deluxe package, your cake arrives toting French Market coffee with chicory, a glossy picture book, doubloons (parade souvenirs) and beads, no flashing required. Fun for little kids, and big ones, too.
The sugar sprinkles on the cake are tinted purple, green, and gold to symbolize justice, faith, and power, respectively. Nowadays, Carnival revelers hold cake parties from the Epiphany through Mardi Gras. And a plastic baby has replaced the coin as the symbol of good luck.
Tip: Whenever a slice is cut, you can cheat and check the bottom for the baby. No luck so far here, literally. But we’ll keep eating without abandon.
Last year, I actually baked one of these monstrosities myself. It is a process and a half. And even though I used a Haydel’s recipe published by a New Orleans newspaper, it just wasn’t the same, albeit it very close.
So when I compare my two Mardi Gras in New York experiences (baking versus buying), this year’s wins out, beads down. No kitchen slavery, the necessary amount of cinnamon-sugary goodness, and of course the infamous beads. It’s as close to the Crescent City this time of year as a roving Creole can get. At least until the last slice is gone and the baby revealed, which unfortunately won’t be long.