King cakes honor the Epiphany (it’s the start of Mardi Gras) and are actually filled pastry rings, frosted and bedecked in traditional royal colors of green (faith), gold (power), and purple (justice).
Fans fall into two camps, preferring either the denser, Danish pastry-style, or the light, tender brioche version. Loyalties divide even further when it comes to the fillings, which range from basic cinnamon and sugar to cream cheese, fruit, and even praline. One feature is sacrosanct though: All king cakes come with a tiny baby to tuck inside. The person who finds it wins good fortune (unless he bites down too hard) but has to buy the next cake.
Best Mardi Gras King Cakes
Picayune, MS. paulspastry.com
If you want doughnut-like pastry and plenty of filling, order: Berry Deluxe Combo King Cake
Why We Love It: The cream cheese-and-berry filling is just the right counterpoint to the slightly sweet brioche. Medium cake: $55.95 (shipping included)
Lafayette, LA. poupartsbakery.com
If you want a traditional French-style king cake, order: French King Cake
Why We Love It: This classic is more of a pie, with rich almond paste sandwiched between two layers of delicate puff pastry (it's a little like a giant almond croissant). 10-inch cake: $13.95 (does not include shipping)
Manny Randazzo King Cakes
Metairie, LA. randazzokingcake.com
If you want Danish pastry-style cake with cinnamon and sugar, order: Traditional Cinnamon King Cake
Why We Love It: This second-generation baker’s cakes feature moist, buttery Danish-style pastry, and plenty of sweet, creamy frosting. Medium cake: $51.95 (shipping included)