As part of New Orleans’s Christian faith, the coming of the wise men bearing gifts to the Christ Child is celebrated twelve days after Christmas. We refer to this as the Feast of the Epiphany, or Little Christmas on the Twelfth Night. This is a time of celebration, exchanging gifts and feasting. Today, the tradition continues as people all over the world gather for festive Twelfth Night celebrations. A popular custom was and still is the baking of a special cake in honor of the three kings, called “A King’s Cake.”
Each king cake has a tiny baby inside (generally plastic now, but it’s possible the baby might be made of porcelain or even gold). The tradition of King Cake Parties have evolved over time, and the “lucky” person who receives the slice of cake with the baby is asked to continue the festivities by having the next King Cake party (or at least purchasing the next cake for the office).
Originally, king cakes were a simple ring of dough with a small amount of decoration. Today’s king cakes are much more festive. After the rich Danish dough is braided and baked, the “baby” is inserted. The top of the ring or oval cake is then covered with delicious sugar toppings in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.
In more recent years, some bakeries have been creative with stuffing and topping their cakes with different flavors of cream cheese and fruit fillings.
Jan. 6, the Twelfth Night after Christmas, is the day our Mardi Gras season, hence king cake season, begins. Mardi Gras Day, also known as Fat Tuesday, is always 47 days prior to Easter Sunday (the day before Ash Wednesday).
Mardi Gras and King Cakes go hand in hand…especially in Louisiana. Hundreds of thousands of king cakes are consumed at parties, offices and in homes every year.
Source: Mardi Grass New Orleans