Mark your calendars: Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, March 1 this year. While we highly suggest tackling some Creole classics at home—jambalaya, gumbo, po' boys, and more—when it comes to king cake, we've got three words for you: outsource, outsource, outsource. Louisiana's expert bakers have been making this specialty for decades. Why not order one straight from the best?
What is king cake?
King cake is so-named for the story of the three kings in the Bible, who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. Classic versions of the dessert start with a batter that's halfway between that of a coffee cake and a cinnamon roll. It's baked into a ring shape (to represent the kings' crowns) and usually lacquered in a vibrant icing of yellow, green, and purple—the traditional colors of Mardi Gras. Sometimes the cakes are unfilled, but fillings of cream cheese, fruit, and more are also wildly popular.
What's with the plastic baby?
Baked somewhere inside the cake is a tiny plastic baby. If your slice has the baby, good fortune is headed your way! But you're also on the hook to buy the next cake or throw the next party, so the celebrations never stop.
Where can I find a king cake?
You'll find these cakes at shops and bakeries throughout New Orleans from early January to Ash Wednesday. But don't fret if you can't make the trip down to the Big Easy this year. We've compiled a list of the best spots that ship king cakes. Whether you're looking for a classic version or something not-so-traditional, there's a just-right king cake for you.
Haydel's cream cheese-filled king cake is a local favorite, but don't sleep on other flavor options, which include praline pecan, strawberry, German chocolate, and chocolate chip brownie. Make it a party with one of the bakery's package deals; this one comes with a pack of French Market Coffee, Haydel's Specialty Mardi Gras Beads, and more.
This bakery has roots going back to the 1960s. Its traditional king cake, which features hand-braided sweet dough infused with cinnamon, is unfilled. Feeling fillings? Nonna Randazzo's also offers stuffed versions with fillings like apple, cream cheese, strawberry and cream cheese, pecan praline, and pecan praline and cream cheese.
This cake won the People’s Choice Award for Best King Cake at the 2016 New Orleans King Cake Festival, and it definitely lives to the hype. Shipped straight to your door through Goldbelly, this dessert is a DIY affair: The cake is shipped naked alongside a tube of frosting and festive sprinkles.
I know, I know—you were looking through this list thinking, "But where's the vegan king cake?!" Well, here it is. Vegans flock to this spot every Carnival season for its plant-based specialties, which include this fantastic king cake. Shipped options are either unfilled or stuffed with Bavarian cream.
At Lilah's Bakery, a family-owned spot in Shreveport, Louisiana, owner and head pastry chef Sopan “TK” Tike has been whisking up sweet delicacies since 2006. The shop is only open during the Mardi Gras season, though, and it only offers one item: king cake. Lilah's makes up for what it lacks in menu selections with the diversity of its king cake flavors, which include bananas Foster, cherry-filled Black Forest, peaches and cream, maple bacon, and cinnamon and sugar. Looking for gluten-free and vegan options? They're here, too.
Caluda's king cake is the brainchild of pastry chef John Caluda, whose old-school cakes forgo icing altogether. Colored sugar is baked directly into the dough, which gives the dessert an oversaturated vibrance. According to the shop's website, it's all in the service of history: These cakes are "closer to the original New Orleans King Cake before we started using icings and fillings."
without the icing and with the colored sugar baked in it to give it the vibrant colors. The website days it is "closer to the original New Orleans King Cake before we started using icings and fillings."
Locals have flocked to Gambino's since 1949 for its traditional king cakes. When ordered online, the shop lets you tack on extras like beads, cake toppers, masks, feather boas, and extra plastic babies. (Fun fact: New Orleanians like to pit Joe Gambino's against Haydel's, but that's only proof that both are worth fighting for.)