⚜️ Peak King Cake Season Means Serious Carnival Craving
King cake as it ought to be: The “caramel crunch” king cake from Willa Jean Photo by Scott Gold
Scott Gold’s modest King Cake proposal had us not only guffawing, but also in serious crave mode. Dang it, as if the countdown after Christmas isn’t tough enough – the tantalizing tick-tock that there are 12 more days to countdown before King Cake is available. He makes a good argument, but still manages to taunt tastebuds. For those of us in non-Mardi Gras cities (can you believe there are such things?), not only do we have to wait for January 6, but we also have to endure the indignity of shipping. – Editor
Gather round, my children, and let the gnarled old sage tell you of a time long ago in New Orleans, in that paleolithic era known as “the early 1980’s.” It was a simple time, back when Emeril had a last name and was known only as a local restaurant chef, when Maison Blanche still operated out of a storefront on Canal Street, and the idea of the Saints ever making it to the Super Bowl was considered a fantasy as far fetched and unlikely as the development of cold fusion or interstellar travel. Also, people who took pictures of their food at this time were considered to be “touched in the head.” Oh, how the world has changed, my young friends.
Back then in New Orleans, too, even king cake was different. It was a simple carnival treat, and not the platform for unabashed decadence and excess it has become today. Back then, they were massive circular loaves of dense, doughy, vaguely cinnamon-inflected bread topped with granular sugar colored purple, green and gold.
For many years, this is what “king cake” meant to me as a child, and as you can imagine, I wasn’t much of a fan. Why gnaw on what seemed to be six baguettes worth of bread when you can have doberge cake or buttermilk drops? It was, to my mind, the red-headed stepchild of New Orleans baked goods. Then, one glorious day, I tasted a cream cheese stuffed Haydel’s king cake, and my entire king cake worldview encountered an intense paradigm shift.
Since that time, king cakes have been getting steadily more elaborate and creative, with bakers insisting each Carnival season on a kind of good natured one-upsmanship that, for the most part, has resulted in king cakes with ingenious new flavor combinations, frostings and fillings. (This is consistent, of course, with the New Orleans bushido of excess.)