Mardi Gras King Cake
A Grateful Celebration of Community, Epiphany, and the End of Winter
Mardi Gras King Cake in Houma, Louisiana
In times past, rural communities that made it through the harsh winter months celebrated by using wheat from the previous year’s harvest to bake a crown-shaped cake. It was traditional in these celebrations to bake a bean into the cake, and the local man who found the bean reigned over the weeklong festival. In later years, this festive monarch came to be known (in some circles) as the Lord of Misrule.
The tradition of the King Cake also has roots in Christianity. For some believers, the traditional King Cake (or Kings Cake/Three King’s Cake) is eaten on 12th Night/the Eve of the Epiphany, or the day that the Three Kings arrived to greet the baby Jesus (also the day Christians celebrate God in human form).
The season for eating King Cake runs from the end of the 12 days of Christmas (Epiphany) thru Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season of fasting.
In later years, the harvest cake and bean have been replaced with a small plastic baby (symbolizing the Christ child) that is tucked inside an oval-shaped cinnamon brioche drenched in fondant and Mardi Gras tri-colored granulated sugar. The modern custom dictates that whoever (male or female) gets the piece of King Cake with the plastic baby inside buys the next King Cake.
But, be prepared for your king cake to come sans plastic tot.
In recent times, the plastic baby has been removed in some communities over fears that it may create a choking hazard. And, so, while King Cakes remain popular, a tried and true festive tradition may slowly be dying out.
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