Oh ya!! Laisse le bon temps rouler!! (Let the good times roll!!) It's countdown to Mardi Gras!!!
January 6th marked the end of Christmas, and to many, the beginning of that dull season known as "just winter"; no holidays to look forward to, just dark days and cold nights. Right? Well, not if you're living on the Gulf Coast! January 6th marked not only the Epiphany but also the countown to Mardi Gras!! And to cake lovers that means it is the beginning of King Cake Season! King Cakes are a cake so gaudy...draped in gold, purple and green frosting and garnished with a paper crown and beads....that you can't help but smile at them! So what is the story behind this rich treat?
The King Cake is a direct US descendant of the French gateau des rois...a filled-brioche style pastry used in France as part of the feast of the Epiphany. Why the royal name? Well, it takes its name from the three kings of biblical lore, going along with the idea that the twelfth day of Christmas, when the three kings arrived bearing gifts for the young Christ, there was much celebration and merrymaking to be made. Afterward, part of the tradition became to crown a "mock" king of celebrations, the king being whoever came across a trinket (originally a bean) in the cake at the festivities. The bean custom seems to have been inspired by the Saturnalia festival of the Roman Empire. The Epiphany celebration became a celebration of the new year, a fruitful harvest, and healthy year ahead; it is also a forefather of the modern Mardi Gras, a necessary bit of excess and evil before the solemn days of Lent.
Really, the New Orleans version of the cake embodies the celebration and excess that is Mardi Gras: the twisted-bread / brioche style cake is frequently filled with rich cream cheese or praline, and topped with sugar icing in traditional purple, green and gold carnival colors which represent justice, faith and power. The finished product is extremely colorful, rich, and extremely sweet. But back to that little figurine: why is it a baby now, rather than a bean? Some say is to represent the young Christ of the epiphany; however, we like this explanation so much better: "a local bakery chain got a large shipment of such plastic dolls from Hong Kong very cheaply in the 1950's and had to use them up and there is no more signifigance than that." Who knows the real truth, but hey, it makes a good story.
But regardless of the meaning of the baby, they're still highly covetable little miracles: just as with the older versions of the cake, whoever finds it in their piece is declared the king or queen of the party, and gets to wear the crown with which the cake is often served. And while it's good to be king or queen--royal duties will include leading the drinking and merriment, and the ability to command others to act upon your whim--don't despair if you don't get the coveted bean or baby. Aside from saving precious tooth enamel, the king or queen is frequently appointed to either pay for the night's drinking, or buy the cake and host the party the next time
(Above information paraphrased from cakespy.com)