Originally a pagan Spring ritual, Mardi Gras (which means “Fat Tuesday” in French) occurs right before the Christian Lent season begins. This year it takes place March 8. Also known as Shrove Tuesday – the day before Ash Wednesday – it has come to represent the temporary putting way or leaving behind of physical pleasures so that one can enter into a more solemn, contemplative “other than worldly’ period of time.
The King Cake is one of the more popular foods served during this time. The custom surrounding this cake celebrates the Epiphany, when Three Wise Men/Kings who were said to come bearing gifts for the Christ Child. This visit took place twelve nights after Christmas and today’s Epiphany continues to be a time for people to exchange gifts and gather together for festival meals.The cake itself represents the three kings who traveled from far away. Circular in shape it generally is a cinnamon-filled dough that is topped with a glaze sprinkled with sugar that has been colored purple, green, and/or gold. Other contemporary fillings and toppings range from fruit spreads and jams to sweetened cream cheese and butter.
It also contains a plastic or ceramic baby that is baked right into the dough. Traditionally, whoever receives the slice of cake with the baby in it is supposed to present the next King Cake the following year. He or she may also be expected to host the next King’s Cake gathering. At some gatherings, there are many babies in the cake so that everyone can feel like ‘a king’.
Hands down, it is the dessert of choice in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and, in fact, has such a following that many of these cakes are shipped across the country for those who want a taste of Mardi Gras New Orlean’s style.
Here are links to a few recipes:
Gluten Free King Cake
Mini King Cake for Kids