The King Cake
article by Mary Napoli | photography by Joli Livaudais
Gather your krewe and fill up your go-cup…it’s Mardi Gras, y’all! In northeast Louisiana, we may not take our Carnival season as seriously as they do in the Big Easy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how to laissez les bon temps rouler. So what if they have massive, miles long parades with fiberoptic floats? And really, what are you going to do with 45 pounds of plastic beads? Don’t get me wrong, New Orleans Mardi Gras is definitely something that everyone should experience in their lifetime, but the sweetest part of the season is available right here in your own backyard. Behold, the king cake.
This colorful Carnival treat gets its name from the celebration of the Epiphany or Twelfth Night, when the biblical three kings began their journey to see the Christ child. Traditions vary around the world, but the festivities begin twelve days after Christmas and conclude on Fat Tuesday, the last day of decadence before the advent of Lent. The sweetened, yeasty dough is traditionally flavored with cinnamon, rolled, twisted or braided and formed into a ring. After baking, it is iced with the colors of the season: purple to signify justice, gold for power and green to symbolize faith.
Mardi Gras often comes on the heels of winter’s final chill. This year has proven to be especially dramatic, but beware…Carnival is quite contagious. Even more powerful than the latest flu mutation or the polar vortex is the infamous King Cake Fever. The cure? You simply must indulge and sample as much of a variety of these sugary delights that you can get your hands on. Luckily, there is no shortage of supply in our region. Nearly every bakery has a version, and all are delightful. However, there are several eateries Monroe with a truly unique approach. Consider this your guide to king cakes that challenge tradition. Any one of these homemade remedies is sure to cure what ails you.
THE SAVORY CAKE
Savory king cake for breakfast? Oh yeah! In addition to their incredibly delicious sweet king cakes, the brilliant bakers at Vieux Carré Gourmet have given us a whole new reason to love this festive delight. Generously topped with mild cheddar cheese, the warm, yeasty, chewy dough has a delicate crust and is packed with scrambled egg and flavorful sausage or crispy bacon. Trust me, you have never had a breakfast like this. One bite and you will agree that it truly is the most important meal of the day. Talented baker Patra Fontenot, who owns the fabulous gourmet food and wine market with her husband Dr. Jerry Fontenot, can create nearly any breakfast combination you have in mind for this unforgettable variation on the king cake, even a vegetarian version. All king cakes are baked fresh daily and are made without preservatives and from the high quality ingredients you might expect from Vieux Carré. The breakfast king cake is truly a revelation.
Fontenot’s inventive baking doesn’t stop there. She has also created king cake bars that are so scrumptious, it must be tasted to be believed. This bar is built for those who love the moist, creaminess of a filled king cake. The shortbread bottom provides a solid base to the rich, velvety layer that contains the cinnamon-sweet king cake flavor. Topped with delicately sweetened icing and sparkling purple, gold, and green sugar, its a smooth, distinctive indulgence that is unforgettable.
With baker Rick Guthrie at her side, Fontenot also creates traditional king cakes. Every morsel of delicious baked goodness is made from scratch daily and is preservative free. Fontenot is passionate about the use of local, high quality products in the baked goods that Vieux Carre offers. They offer a variety of fillings in addition to the traditional cinnamon king cake, but the strawberry cream cheese remains a fan favorite. The sweet filling is perfectly balanced with the soft, dense, yeasty dough. Satisfyingly sweet but not overly sugary, each bite has a pleasurable texture and consistency. The cake is moist, but can be handled easily without falling apart. Beautifully crafted, each delectable bite seems better than the next.
Vieux Carré Gourmet
1623 N 18th Street
Even during the merriment of Carnival season, there are days when a dainty, delicate cupcake coated in sugary sprinkles is the perfect pick me up. Bakery Boutique, located on Highway 165 near the intersection of Loop Road, is the place to go for a delightful dose of palm-sized king cake flavor. The bakery is relatively new on the scene, but has plenty of experience in the kitchen. Award winning baker Cyndi Hodges co-owns the popular sweet shop with Crystal and Cody Breen, and the business already has a loyal following. When Hodges began to experiment with recipes in preparation for this Mardi Gras season, she chose to create a cupcake that featured king cake flavor, but with traditional cake consistency. Topped with delicate, poured icing and glittering sprinkles, the cinnamon cupcake is airy and light. This confection is a favorite of kids and adults alike.
The king cupcake is a wonderful treat, but please don’t overlook the original full-sized king cake. Bakery Boutique’s cream cheese filled king cake is especially moist and flavorful and made for those who desire a taste of creamy filling in each bite. The delicate dough is sweetened perfectly and rolled in a way that distributes the gooey filling surprisingly evenly, which is no easy task. King cakes made in mass can sometimes be over-baked and dry, but not at Bakery Boutique. Hodges has the magical talent of keeping her cakes incredibly moist. This is not the type of king cake that can be eaten by hand. Heavy and luscious, you’ll need a fork to enjoy this indulgence properly. Made to order, these king cakes are also available with in a sinfully delicious strawberry flavor, as well as praline, lemon, blueberry, raspberry and traditional cinnamon. Place your order well before Fat Tuesday so you will have time to try more than just one of these heavenly cakes.
1530 Sterlington Road
THE HEALTHY ALTERNATIVE
Daily Harvest is well known for its use of natural products and creates all of its tasty, healthful dishes with 100% whole wheat that is milled daily in house. Their king cake looks exactly like its sugar-coated evil twin, but don’t let its appearance fool you. These talented bakers steer clear of refined white sugar and use honey and sucanat (a contraction of “sucre de canne natural”), the brand name for a variety of natural, unrefined whole cane sugar. This sweetener is diabetic friendly and metabolizes at a slower rate than regular sugar. The result is a complex, mellow sweetness that satisfies every sweet tooth, but doesn’t do the damage that sugar is known for. If carbs are a concern, this might be the king cake for you.
All baked goods from Daily Harvest are preservative free, and king cakes are made multiple times during the day for optimum freshness. A variety are often available for customers who walk in with a craving for king cake. Choose from several of fillings: traditional cinnamon, cream cheese, strawberry and cream, blueberry and cream and pecan and cream.
Daily Harvest Deli and Bakery
1105 Forsythe Avenue
IN A STRAW
Think about all the things that Mardi Gras means to you. Now, stuff it all in a blender with some ice and watch it spin. There you have it–the king cake daiquiri! What could be more genius than that? Daq’s has managed to capture everything flavorful about the season and contained it in this frosty drink. One sip, and you’ll taste the cinnamon, icing and sweet goodness that we all love in a king cake. Take a few more sips, and you’ll soon be aware that this delight packs a powerful punch.
Celebrate the season of indulgence by enjoying your daiquiri with some of Daq’s other tasty fare. The sweetness of the frozen drink is the perfect way to cool down your palate after enjoying one of the spicy grilled chicken sandwiches that patrons can’t get enough of. Order inside the grill, and your drink is delivered in a tall, frosty glass rimmed with purple, green, and gold sugar, and topped with sprinkles of the same color. This creation is as fun to look at as it is to drink. When you head to a parade party or a Mardi Gras celebration, swing by Daq’s drive-thru and order these festive drinks for friends.
Daq’s Wings and Grill
2217 Forsythe Ave
King cakes are perfect for sharing at large parties or gatherings, but what about a party of one? Problem solved! The Coffee Bean has you covered. Their mini king cakes are cuter than cute, perfectly sized, and divinely flavorsome. This king cake is very much a traditional New Orleans style cake, which features dough with a satisfyingly chewy texture. Sugary cinnamon is distributed beautifully throughout the yeasty dough before the bread is twisted into a small ring. Each bite is moist and flavorful. A confectioner sugar based icing is poured on top and provides the perfect amount of sweetness against the doughy cake. Atop the icing, delightful mounds of fine, colorful sugar provide an artful presentation. Not surprising, the Coffee Bean offers one of the most lovely king cakes visually, and the taste is equally as enjoyable. These mini king cakes make wonderful, festive gifts for your favorite friends and family and are available in boxes that include one or two cakes along with traditional Mardi Gras decorations.
The Bean also offers traditional cinnamon king cakes in a 16 inch size, but the scrumptious filled versions are incredibly popular. Choose from rich cream cheese or the heavenly apple pecan and never be disappointed. If your Valentine is also a fan of king cake, try the Coffee Bean’s adorable Baby Cakes or Valentine’s cakes, which are king cakes topped with glittering red and pink sugar or conversation hearts. A long-time local favorite, any treat that comes from the Bean is undoubtedly delectable and certain to put a smile on the face of whom ever you share it with.
The Coffee Bean Café and Catering
2501 Broadmoor Boulevard