The King Cake, like most things New Orleans, is a quaint little tradition that when subjected to the creativity of the best chefs in the world, suddenly becomes a world-wide obsession. That little sticky, cinnamon-y cake pastry that originated in France in the 12th century has evolved into one of the iconic symbols of Carnival. The New Orleans Creoles merged the French’s passion for baking and the 12th Night Cake with the Spanish’s obsession of picking “Royalty for a Day” via chance into one of my favorite treats and something that brings back great memories of my childhood.
It is interesting why a King Cake looks the way it does- it is circular in shape to represent the route taken by the Three Wise Men when they visited Baby Jesus. They made a circle back to the east so King Herod would not know that they had found the Child King and have him killed. The colored sugars represent the colors of Mardi Gras and were chosen in 1872 by Rex himself. They are Purple for Justice, Green for Faith and Gold for Power. On an interesting side note, when Louisiana’s two largest universities (Tulane and LSU) picked their colors, they choose the colors of Mardi Gras.
The first use of the 12th Night Cake, or Kings Cake, was by the Twelfth Night Revelers (TNR) in the 19th Century. It was a singles dance for the blue blood of New Orleans’ Society. Member of the TNR would roll the large cake into the ballroom and all of the single maids would be “called out” and brought to a masked member for the “call out dance.” Each woman would get a piece of cake. Whoever received the piece with the luck of the bean that was baked inside the cake would become “Queen of the Ball” and her escort would be “King.” The bean evolved into a plastic baby that represents Jesus. For those of us not born into the upper crust of New Orleans Society, receiving the baby meant hosting the next King Cake party!!
So now that the holidays are over and New Year has past, here comes Mardi Gras in all of her splendor. Starting on January 6th, Copeland’s Restaurants in Atlanta will be baking these ancient treats with a Creole twist. To order, come by any of our Atlanta area Copeland’s or go online to www.CopelandsAtlanta.com to order or have your cake shipped anywhere in the United States. See if you have the “Luck of the Bean.”
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