A celebration without cake is merely a meeting and one of the biggest celebrations in south Louisiana is Carnival Season and the symbol of Mardi Gras is the best cake ever: the king cake!
What exactly is a king cake?
In short, a king cake is made up of a sweet brioche dough in the shape of a hollow circle with a glazed topping sprinkled with colored sugar. They come in a variety of flavors, fillings, and colors. Traditionally they are colored purple to represent justice, green to represent faith, and gold to represent power. (Scroll down for a history about Mardi Gras.)
Who has the best king cake?
To date, I have tried dozens of king cakes from all over the southern region of Louisiana that spans over several decades. I've tried the good, the bad, the moist, and the dry. I'm slightly critical of food, so I won't list the bad, instead I'll tell you about the BEST king cakes I've ever had and they both hail from Sucré in New Orleans, Louisiana; the first one is the Sucré signature King Cake - a rich, braided, buttery brioche dough sweetened with cinnamon and sugar, filled with whipped cream cheese, and finished with Sucré’s signature glaze. The second best is the Sucré Sugar + Spice King Cake! It's the beautiful partnership of Sucré and Tabasco and is their newest flavor. If you like a little heat, you'll love the flavors of the Sugar + Spice, a braided, buttery dough sweetened with cinnamon and sugar, filled with a single-bean Swiss chocolate whipped cream cheese filling, and accented with TABASCO® Habanero Sauce, that has a surprising hint of mango, papaya, and banana!
For History Buffs: A Brief History About Mardi Gras
ORIGINS OF MARDI GRAS
According to historians, Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the raucous Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.Along with Christianity, Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain and England.
Traditionally, in the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers would binge on all the meat, eggs, milk and cheese that remained in their homes, preparing for several weeks of eating only fish and fasting. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.” The word “carnival,” another common name for the pre-Lenten festivities, may also derive from this vegetarian-unfriendly custom: in Medieval Latin, carnelevarium means to take away or remove meat.
MARDI GRAS IN THE UNITED STATES
Many historians believe that the first American Mardi Gras took place on March 3, 1699, when the French explorers Iberville and Bienville landed in what is now Louisiana, just south of the holiday’s future epicenter: New Orleans. They held a small celebration and dubbed the spot Point du Mardi Gras. In the decades that followed, New Orleans and other French settlements began marking the holiday with street parties, masked balls and lavish dinners. When the Spanish took control of New Orleans, however, they abolished these rowdy rituals, and the bans remained in force until Louisiana became a U.S. state in 1812.
On Mardi Gras in 1827, a group of students donned colorful costumes and danced through the streets of New Orleans, emulating the revelry they’d observed while visiting Paris. Ten years later, the first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took place, a tradition that continues to this day. In 1857, a secret society of New Orleans businessmen called the Mistick Krewe of Comus organized a torch-lit Mardi Gras procession with marching bands and rolling floats, setting the tone for future public celebrations in the city. Since then, krewes have remained a fixture of the Carnival scene throughout Louisiana. Other lasting customs include throwing beads and other trinkets, wearing masks, decorating floats and eating King Cake.
Louisiana is the only state in which Mardi Gras is a legal holiday. However, elaborate carnival festivities draw crowds in other parts of the United States during the Mardi Gras season as well, including Alabama and Mississippi. Each region has its own events and traditions.
Why does Mardi Gras season start on Jan. 6?
(as told By Doug MacCash, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune )
In the Catholic world, Jan. 6 is called Epiphany or Twelfth Night (since it's twelve days after Christmas) or Kings Day (hence the King Cake tie-in, right?). It marks the moment in the Bible that the three kings, having traveled over field and fountain, moor and mountain, arrived in Bethlehem to behold the baby Jesus. Traditionally, Epiphany is considered the last day of the Christmas holidays.
Traditionally Kings Day, aka Epiphany, aka Twelfth Night, is a time of feasting. So, back in 1870, one of the very first Mardi Gras clubs decided to have a parade and party on that night. They called themselves the Twelfth Night Revelers.
According to a 2009 NOLA.com story titled "A History of Mardi Gras" by Becky Retz, The Revelers employed jesters to serve king cake to young ladies at the party. Back then, king cakes had a gilded bean hidden inside (because pink plastic babies were very, very scarce in those days). Whichever young lady got the lucky bean would be crowned queen of the Revelers. But, according to Retz, the Revelers' jesters went off the rails.
"It seems the fools were drunk," Retz wrote, and instead of presenting the cake, they either dropped it on or threw it at the women."
Oh you guys!
And there you have it. Since the Twelfth Night Revelers' fateful drunken king cake party, New Orleans has apparently begun the Mardi Gras season on Jan. 6. At least that seems to be the answer.
Your Jan. 6 rights and privileges
Starting at 12:01 a.m. Friday, you are free to say "happy Mardi Gras" to the bus driver, in the same way you might start saying "Merry Christmas" on the first day after Thanksgiving.
Starting Jan. 6, you are also free to wear purple green and gold, the ghastly colors of Mardi Gras. But start out slow. In the workplace, your fellow employees should not be asked to endure your purple, green and gold bowtie or scarf until, say, Endymion Saturday (Feb. 25).
Starting Jan. 6, you are free -- obliged, even -- to eat king cake (round pastries with ghastly purple, green, and gold sprinkles) whenever you encounter it.
Truth is, these days you'll see king cakes for sale pretty much all year round. However, purists view purchasing king cakes before Jan. 6 as a demonstration of gauche impatience. Sort of like shooting off fireworks on July 3. Or opening the Christmas presents a day early.
It's no big deal. A cultural misdemeanor.