Mardi Gras King Cake

by blackspanielgallery

The Mardi Gras King cake is a significant part of the season. This popular treat is enjoyed my many.

Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It is a time of plenty before the beginning of the somber days of Lent. Louisiana had a Roman Catholic origin, having been a possession of France, then Spain, and eventually France again, but governed by Spain. So, the culture of Mardi Gras took hold.

The season technically begins with the Feast of the Epiphany, or January 6. Because Lent is determined by Easter, the season varies in length.

One thing that traditionally appears every January 6, and ends on Mardi Gras, is the King Cake.

The King Cake

A King Cake is much like a pastry, particularly a cinnamon bun.  One main difference is the King Cake does not have raisins.   The cake itself is often round, although square or oval with a hole in the center is fine.  The dough is often covered with cinnamon which is then twisted into the cake as layers.  The amount of cinnamon one finds in a King Cake varies by the bakery from which it came.


The name has to do with the Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the arrival of the Magi, often called the three kings, to visit Jesus.  They had to find Jesus, so a small doll representing Jesus as a baby is hidden into the cake.  Some bakers add the doll, others allow the customer to do so.  If the baker hides the doll it is well concealed.


The cake is decorated with granulated sugar in the three Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold.  These symbolize justice, faith, and power, respectively.  The sugar is not mixed, but the colors are applied in swaths of about four-inch widths.  So, there is a purple section, then a green section, then a gold section, then repeat as many times as needed.  Another decoration, which is optional, is white icing that often is drizzled on without fully covering the cake.  But there is no real requirement.  Some bakers add so much icing it practically closes the center hold and merges with icing from the other side of the cake.


King Cake

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King Cake Options

The King Cake described above is what is called a traditional King Cake, and this type is the most popular.  But some people preferred more, so filled cakes are also available.  A large variety of fillings can be baked into a King Cake.  The one pictured is close to a traditional King Cake, but it is called “The Parish” for Saint Bernard Parish where this version originated.  It has purple, green, and gold sprinkles as a final topping.


Louisiana has parishes instead of counties, due to its Catholic origin.  Saint Bernard is the eastern neighbor to New Orleans, and named for Saint Bernard, in honor of Bernardo Galvez, a Spanish governor of Louisiana.

Use of King Cakes

King Cakes are often consumed during the Mardi Gras season at parties, in offices, and in homes.  One tradition is the person who finds the hidden doll hosts the next party.  In an office setting the person buys a King Cake for the break room a few days later.


Extending the Season

Some bakeries extend the season by selling red and green cakes before Christmas, or red heart shaped cakes foe Saint Valentine’s Day.  Extending the season is aggressive when the Mardi Gras season is short.  But there is such a high demand during the season, bakers are less likely to sell outside the season when Mardi Gras is later. 

The Collectible Doll

One bakery includes a porcelain doll as a collectible with the King Cake. This collectible doll is not inserted into the cake, a small rubber doll is used for that purpose.  The 2019 doll pictured is called Ladies of the Mardi Gras Ball.  A different collectible doll has appeared each year since 1990. 

2019 Collectible King Cake Doll

2019 King Cake Doll
2019 King Cake Doll
My Own Image

King Cake Collectible Dolls

1997 Bakery King Cake Doll

King Cakes Differ

A bakery will have its own version.  There is no set formula.  Some are better than others, but it is a matter of taste which version any person will prefer.  Some supermarkets offer simple versions which are less desirable than others to many locals. 


Ask five people where the best King Cakes are to be found and you might get five different answers.


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The introduction image is our own.

Updated: 12/18/2019, blackspanielgallery
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blackspanielgallery on 01/13/2022

Well, each bakery has its own version. Most use colored sugar in purple, green and gold, with icing over the top. They are for all practical purposes large versions of the roll but without raisins. The sugar is, of course, not part of a typical roll.

Fillings can be whatever you like. Think of pies. Strawberry, apple, any other fruit, cheesecake, and praline all work.

DerdriuMarriner on 01/13/2022

What with possible snowbound days here Friday through Monday, I'm baking and cooking foods mentioned by Frank, Veronica and you this weekend.

From your writings, I'm thinking of trying a King cake. It has been some time since I've had one. But I remember quite a bit of the sugar falling off the top. Was that just a one-off -- since it otherwise was scrumptious -- or would generous icing take care of sugar naturally slip-sliding off King cakes?

Also, what would be the possibilities for fillings -- which I'm considering if I make a second -- and which would you choose?

blackspanielgallery on 02/06/2019

Since Mardi Gras season, albeit usually balls not open to the public, are anytime during the Mardi Gras season, the cakes are available during this time. We usually eat about one each week of so. Multiple cakes are quite common, certainly not just one.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/06/2019

blackspanielgallery, Thank you for the cultural information and product lines. You mention that "One thing that traditionally appears every January 6, and ends on Mardi Gras, is the King Cake." Would the King Cake be bought just once or a number of times during that timespan?

blackspanielgallery on 02/05/2019

I used to ship king cakes to editors for whom i worked. One once commented he did not know there was an eating aspect to Mardi Gras. Here, there is eating involved with just about everything.

We have customs from many origins, as we have a variety of people who came to this area. It is rich in culture.

Veronica on 02/05/2019

Customs and traditions make us who we are.

WriterArtist on 02/05/2019

Never heard of Mardi Gras King Cake. Thinking about traditions and customs, it seems a good time to celebrate.

blackspanielgallery on 02/01/2019

They ship many out, but even with local shipping (U. S.) the cost gets high. Internationally I would think it too excessive. The one shown is from Haydel's bakery and you can visit their website,

Veronica on 02/01/2019

I have never heard of this. Thank you for posting it. I can see how the idea of a doll continues from the Nativity and you explain it very well.

I love trying regional recipes and I may give this a try if I can find one .

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