Guest post by Keila Dawson
Yes, King Cakes have their very own time of year. In Louisiana, King Cakes first appear on Kings’ Day which is January 6th and are enjoyed until Mardi Gras day. Kings’ Day is celebrated in many countries. Baking bread with a bean hidden inside and crowning the person who finds it “king for the day” was a Roman celebration of the winter solstice. However, the spread of Christianity changed this event to the religious observance we know today.
Why is Kings’ Day celebrated?
The church designated January 6th as Feast of the Epiphany, twelve days after the birth of Jesus, the day He “showed” Himself to the Three Kings in Bethlehem. The tradition was practiced thousands of years ago in the French and Spanish empires and spread to their colonies across the Americas. The day also marks the start of Carnival, or “carne vale” translated as “farewell to the flesh” from Latin. During Carnival, indulgence is allowed and Louisiana King Cakes are eaten throughout the season. But according to tradition, after midnight on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), no one is allowed to eat them until the next year. The day after Fat Tuesday is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, as well as fasting until Easter Sunday.
Why are King Cakes oval or round?
Some believe the cakes were made in a circular shape to represent the routes that the Three Kings or Wise Men took to foil King Herod’s plan of killing the baby Jesus. Others believe the cake is shaped and decorated like the crowns worn by kings.
Why is a plastic baby hidden inside King Cakes?
The tradition of hiding figures, according to Catholic teaching, represents the flight of the Holy Family from King Herod. The plastic or porcelain baby represents the baby Jesus. In addition to a plastic baby, beans, and other trinkets are known to be hidden inside the cakes.
What happens if you find the baby or trinket hidden inside a King Cake?
Finding or “getting” the baby or trinket in your piece of cake is always exciting. Its discovery means the person is blessed or will have good luck or is crowned king or queen of the day. The person may also be obligated to host the next party, and or bring the next cake to the office or social gathering.
Where in the world is Kings’ Day celebrated and King Cakes eaten?
King Cakes are made in many places including Europe and North America. The celebration is the same; a trinket is always hidden inside the cake, traditionally to represent the baby Jesus, however the pastry itself may be different.
France, Quebec, and Belgium
In French and Francophile cultures, the cakes are called Galette des Rois. In southern France they are known as Gâteau des Rois.
The Gâteau des Rois is made of brioche, a dough using yeast, and topped with jewel-colored candied fruit. The galette variety is a cake with a buttery, flaky, puff pastry filled with a layer of frangipani or crème d’amandes (almond cream). They often come with cardbord “crowns” to be worn by whoever gets the slice with the token or la fève. Traditionally, the youngest child at the gathering is blindfolded, sits under the table, and chooses who receives which slice of cake.
Spain and Latin America
In Spanish and Latin American culture, January 6th is known as El Dia de Reyes, or Kings’ Day. The cakes are called roscón de reyes or rosca de reyes (“rosca” means wreath and “reyes” means kings.). This cake bread is sweet, garnished with dried and candied fruits. Children receive presents in remembrance of the gifts the Three Kings brought to baby Jesus.
Louisiana and the Gulf Coast
Louisiana is well known for its famous Louisiana Creole cuisine. New Orleans is well known for its Mardi Gras celebration. With a large Catholic population, all the pomp and circumstance Carnival brings with krewes, balls, parties, and parades leading up to the big day, it is no surprise that the King Cake has become a symbol of this annual celebration. As more and more bakeries individualized their cakes through their own creative décor and fillings, the popularity of the cakes grew.
At the top of the page is an example of our Louisiana variety decorated in Mardi Gras colors. See the baby? I make, bake, or buy them throughout the season.
And now the Louisiana King Cake has its very own King Cake Festival in New Orleans to honor this delicious confection. The festival is a benefit for the children and babies of Ochsner Medical Center, a local hospital. Bakeries from around greater New Orleans come to compete for The People’s Choice, an award given to the tastiest cake of the season.
Many other countries, too numerous to include in this post, also celebrate Kings’ Day and have their own versions of the cake as well.
Hope you will join me in this wonderfully delicious celebration this season. And in advance, Happy Mardi Gras!
About Keila Dawson
Keila Dawson is the author of The King Cake Baby, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.; January 2015. She was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Crescent City has remained close to her heart in spite of her work and life abroad and across the USA. Keila enjoys sharing her love of Louisiana culture, and her debut book highlights the unique cultural tradition of eating King Cake during the Mardi Gras season. Find a FREE King Cake Baby study guide which includes a glossary, comprehension, math, written expression activities as well as coloring pages and craft ideas, all printable from Teachers Pay Teachers or from her website. Find out more about her at www.keiladawson.com and other social media links found there.
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