We can hardly believe it – but Mardi Gras is next Tuesday – February 9th! Nowhere does Mardi Gras like New Orleans, and an integral part of the celebration in the city is the iconic purple, yellow and green King Cake. However, if you are in New Orleans around this time of year you are completely spoiled for choice. So that’s where the King Cake Database comes into play – you can search by name, neighborhood or by type of king cake desired (traditional, dietary specifications, etc.). Laissez les bons temps rouler!
January 6th marks Three Kings Day (also known as 12th night or Epiphany) the official end to the Christmas holiday season. In the past, we have written about some of the most popular cakes eaten on this holiday: the French Galette des Rois and its classic Fèves, Portuguese Bolo Rei and the Spanish and Latin Amerian Rosca de Reyes. In Poland, there is also a special cake to ring in this holiday, the Ciasto Trzech Króli (Three Kings Cake). Similar to other Eurpean cakes, the Ciasto Trzech Króli is rich, filled with dried fruit, and topped with a decorative crown (recipe in English and photo from About.com here). Whoever finds the almond or coin baked into the cake gets to wear the crown!
Legend has it, if you find the toy inside the King Cake (or Gallette des Rois: recipe here) on Three Kings Day on January 6th, you become king or queen for the day. The classic king cake trinket in the US is a plastic or porcelain baby, though it was traditionally a fava bean (la fève in French). Now the term “la fève” has come to refer to any kind of trinket that may be found inside the cake, and may be any assortment of tiny characters, foods or animals (though some bakeries in the US are doing away with them altogether). There is something of a collectors market around particularly artistic or rare fèves, and their collectors are called “favophiles.” We came upon a particularly cute assortment of fèves at La Fournette bakery in Chicago, they may just entice us into becoming favophiles.
King Cake Fèves at La Fournette in Chicago
Galette des Rois at La Fournette in Chicago
King cake is commonly eaten on Epiphany, January 6th, and whoever finds the trinket (la fève) in the cake (sometimes ceramic, or sometimes edible, like a fava bean) is king/queen for a day. However, it is fashionable in Paris to serve it long after that, and perhaps this tradition holds in Chicago as well, since we still saw it on offer in Mid-January. The French Galette des Rois is made with puff pastry and filled with almond cream. David Lebovitz has a recipe to DiY, though we think it’s nicer to pick one up at the bakery (and the crown that goes with it).
The tradition of the “King Cake” spans continents, and is tied to the holiday of Epiphany celebrated on the 6th of January. One variety of sweet celebrating this day is the Bolo Rei of Portugal, and another variety is Rosca de Reyes from Mexico, a ring of sweet bread. Epiphany is known in Mexico as Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day), lending the cake its name. Much like the other King Cake varieties, the Rosca de Reyes has a trinket inside, in this case a small porcelain (or plastic) Jesus figurine, the finder of which has to host a party on February 2nd, Candelmas. The Rosca de Reyes is more of a bread than a cake, and instead of frosting, the bread is topped with candied citrus and a bit of sugar. The size of the Rosca is dependent on the size of your party, so here is a recipe if you are expecting a crowd, or another if you would rather have more individual-sized rolls.
Rosca de Reyes for sale in Mexico City
Bolo Rei on display in Lisbon
In Portugal, one of the signals that the Christmas season has arrived is the arrival of the Bolo Rei (King Cake), a yeast-baked cake flavored with nuts and fruit and topped with a heaping helping of crystallized fruit. Eaten in Portugal until Kings Day (Jan 6), the Bolo Rei is nearly identical to the King Cake that is popular for Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Like a King Cake, the Bolo Rei has a small trinket inside (traditionally a fava bean, but in more modern times, a charm), a practice which has now actually been outlawed (boo!).
The Confeiteria Nacional in Lisbon credits itself with introducing the Bolo Rei to Portugal in the 1800s. Throughout Portugal there are Bolo Rei being sold by every corner bakery, in all sizes. However, if you are not currently in Lusitania, there are many recipes available for Bolo Rei. Another Variation on the Bolo Rei is the Bolo Rainha – without crystallized fruit.
It’s not called Fat Tuesday for no reason. Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent begins, is a traditional day of feasting. Naturally, in the US the focus is on Creole and Cajun Mardi Gras foods due to the big way that New Orleans celebrates the holiday. For an awesome intro, Epicurious has a new guide on Cajun and Creole food, because as we learned, there is a difference. If you’re feeling especially festive (or hungry) Chow has a recipe for King Cake (Galette des Rois – seen below) and Gumbo Pages has a history and recipe of the ubiquitous Muffaletta.
However, in addition to the Nawlins Mardi Gras we know and love, there are some other pretty great food traditions, such as Paczki Day in Chicago. Paczkis (pronounced poonch-key) are filled doughnuts and are traditionally consumed in areas with high Polish populations. On the other side of the pond, the tradition in England is to have Shrove Tuesday Pancakes (is it a coincidence that IHOP has free pancakes today?). In Sweden, the day is called Fettisdagen, and a traditional pastry of semolina wheat called Semla is consumed. Basically every country or community that celebrates Easter has their own Mardi Gras food traditions, and they all sound pretty delicious to us!