The frenzy is justified. These colorful treats are traditionally enjoyed only during the Carnival season, which begins each year on January 6 – also known as Twelfth Night, Epiphany or Twelfth Night – and ends on Mardi Gras, or Mardi Gras. fat.
Get the recipe: New Orleans king cake
This noisy holiday can fall from February 3 to March 9. It is always the day before Ash Wednesday, which is always 46 days before Easter, a movable feast in the Christian liturgical calendar. (This year, Mardi Gras takes place on February 13.) Happily settled in the District, where the king cake mania is considerably less frenzied, I decided to try my hand at baking one again.
When I mentioned this to a colleague at the Washington Post, she said she liked New Orleans-style cakes because “they look like big cinnamon rolls.” I started to roll my eyes but checked myself. If your experience with king cakes is by mail order, this is probably all you’ve tasted. Cinnamon king cakes are so common these days that they are considered traditional.
Crescent City King Cake Bakers say New Orleans-area grocery stores began selling and shipping cinnamon-flavored king cakes in the 1980s, making them more popular and more readily available.
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These days, however, cinnamon seems tame. New Orleans king cakes come in an ever-expanding range of styles and flavors, stuffed and plain – too numerous to list. (King cake babka, anyone?) And, beyond New Orleans, confectioneries vary, by tradition, from one city to another and from one country to another. For example, the traditional French galette de rois, also popular in New Orleans, is made with puff pastry and almond paste.
Everyone has a favorite. I prefer a simpler cake.
Before the cinnamon explosion in New Orleans, king cake was more like bread. In “The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook: Sesquicentennial Tradition Edition,” published in 1987 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Times-Picayune newspaper, the recipe calls for flour, eggs, butter, yeast, salt and candy for decoration . No cinnamon.
I wanted one along these lines, one that would be reminiscent of the cakes I remembered as a kid – an old-fashioned brioche style that gets much of its sweetness from purple, green and gold sanding sugar sprinkles on top.
Still, even a traditionalist like me had to admit that the cake I remembered was a little dry. Chaya Conrad of Bywater Bakery in New Orleans chimed in. Her version of the cake was inspired by the ones I cherished as a child – the ones made popular by the once-ubiquitous McKenzie’s bakeries in New Orleans.
Conrad focused on what was missing from these pastries. McKenzie cakes, she said, were too simple for modern customs and tastes.
“It’s such a simple king cake,” she says. “People expect a little more. I didn’t want to make cinnamon. I knew I wanted to do something that wasn’t in itself, but something that had extra love in it.
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So she added what she calls her “ooey, gooey, butter schmear” — a light topping that goes inside the cake before baking. She adds a healthy dose of colored sprinkles to give the cake extra flavor, moisture and color – or “a little jazz,” as she put it.
We’ve come up with a recipe that’s a little less involved than the 48-hour prep Conrad uses for the cakes she sells – 10,000 in 2019. This one will take you about four hours to make. Luckily, more than half of that time is spent waiting for the dough to rise.
I also created my own version of Conrad’s diagram. This is optional, but I highly recommend it, as it adds a bit of sweetness and moisture to the otherwise breaded cake. Also, royal icing is traditional, but I find it one-dimensional and too sweet, so I made a tangy buttermilk-yogurt icing, which I now love and plan to use on other cakes as well .
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In New Orleans and many other cities, small plastic babies, trinkets, or beans are stored inside the cake after baking. Once the cake is cut, whoever “gets the baby” is supposed to host the next party. If you want to embrace this tradition, you can find plastic baby king cakes – and the traditional purple (for justice), green (for faith) and gold (for power) sugar crystals – online. Sugars are also available at craft stores. If you’re inserting a baby, just be sure to explain the tradition to all guests, so they can keep an eye on them.
Conrad has one more piece of advice: if you plan to prepare a galette des rois at home, give yourself time.
“It’s not something you can really rush,” she said. “It might be one of the reasons why people don’t go home, but it’s worth it.”
Get the recipe: New Orleans king cake