A Real-Deal Mardi Gras King Cake

By: Sara Levine

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King Cake

I’m a very lucky girl, having married into a food-obsessed family from New Orleans. My in-laws send us NOLA treats all year — local favorites that are hard to come by in New York, like Zatarain’s jambalaya mix, Aunt Sally’s pralines and Tony Chachere’s seasoning. As Fat Tuesday approaches, it’s King Cake time.

This quintessential Mardi Gras treat is a sweet braided pastry with frosting coated in plenty of purple, green and gold sprinkles, but the pièce de résistance is hidden inside. Whoever gets the slice with a plastic baby — caution is recommended as you devour your piece — is declared the king or queen for the day. Some say getting the baby is like catching the bouquet at a wedding, except instead of being the next to marry, it means the finder will soon have a (real) baby.

Traditional King Cake tastes like a giant cinnamon roll, so I highly recommend indulging for breakfast. With a cup of chicory-laced coffee, it’ll put you in a New Orleans state of mind for the entire day.

King Cake Baby

Not all King Cakes are created equal, even if they come straight from the source (Louisiana). In past years, I've sampled supermarket versions that were disappointing and dry, leading me to wonder what the fuss was all about. This one changed my mind. It came from Manny Randazzo, a New Orleans bakery that specializes in King Cakes — they’re only open January through Mardi Gras eve.

Randazzo delivers anywhere overnight, and the cake we received in New York was moist, delicious and totally intact upon arrival. The bakery even included strands of festive beads and a handful of plastic coins, both traditionally thrown from Mardi Gras floats. If you know a transplant who’s missing New Orleans this time of year, this makes a great care package.

Or impress Mardi Gras revelers this Tuesday with a homemade King Cake recipe from Food Network Magazine.

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