Baking Up King Cakes For Mardi Gras

Mar 1, 2019

This Tuesday, March 5, is Shrove Tuesday if you’re getting ready for Lent – famously known as Mardi Gras.

This celebration always features rich and decadent foods. That’s because people who observe Lent often forego foods they enjoy during the forty-day period leading up to Easter. 

King Cakes, round yeast breads sprinkled with purple, green, and gold sugar, are a holiday mainstay. But local bakeries can sell out if you don’t order in advance. 

You can score one online but the cost of express shipping is pretty hard to swallow.

Why not make your own instead? It’s not difficult but you’ll need a bit of planning – and a tiny plastic baby. Home baker Anita Crotty lives in California but swears by a recipe she found on the authentic gumbopages.com. “Once I realized how easy it was, it became something of a tradition,” she said.

Charlottean Rachel Eldridge used to live in Mobile, Alabama, where the Mardi Gras fête, hearkening back to French tradition, actually pre-dates the massive, iconic celebrations in New Orleans. In cities that host parades, crowds indulge in revelry and swarm the streets to grab for trinkets thrown by float-riders. 

Eldridge hosts a soiree with a big menu at her home every year. It’s a lot of work and I asked her why she bothered. Religious lore aside, she likes the timing. “Late winter is a good time to have a party. You’re not competing with much other than the Oscars and the Super Bowl. It’s an easy party to throw with a built-in color scheme and menu,” she explained.

She uses an old recipe passed around for years. Start to finish, it takes between four and five hours. To save time she recommends measuring out all the flour into one bowl ahead of time. She also serves traditional jambalaya and fabulous muffalettas at her party, but it’s her King Cake that I keep coming back to devour, slice by sugary slice.

The little baby baked into the cake can symbolize the rebirth of Jesus, but according to custom, the person who gets the slice of cake containing the baby must bake next year’s cake.

Well, last year I got the baby. That means that I need to make my first-ever King Cake – before Tuesday. No pressure, right? Luckily, my pal has agreed to let me work with her. I'm not a great baker, so if my attempt is a fail I’ll have a Mardi Gras workaround ready to go.

For anyone who ends up cake-less, you can just get some MoonPies and throw them at your friends. They do it every year at the Mardi Gras parade in Mobile, so you know it’s all good.

Amy Rogers writes the WFAEats column, a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and tackle the meatier side of the food scene in and around Charlotte.