What Is a Mardi Gras King Cake?

mardi-gras-king-cake Credit: Phil Denton/CC BY-SA 2.0

The king cake is a traditional dessert associated with Mardi Gras or Carnival; the cake takes its name from the Bible story of the Three Kings, who met the baby Jesus in an event now commemorated with the celebration of Epiphany. According to the Manny Randazzo bakery in New Orleans, which has been making king cakes for Mardi Gras since 1965, the cake is a mix between an American coffee cake and a French pastry. These cakes may take different forms in different countries and can be round or ovoid in shape, typically with a hollow center, and, in the United States, are often decorated with white icing or glaze and colored decorations in the New Orleans' Mardi Gras colors of green, gold and purple.

In addition to the iconic shape and decorative colors, the king cake also usually includes a small plastic baby either baked inside or placed underneath the cake. This baby figurine is intended to represent the infant Jesus Christ. The person who is served the piece of king cake with the baby inside may win a prize or assume some sort of duty, such as becoming responsible for hosting the next year's Mardi Gras celebration. In the past, a bean may have been used to symbolize the baby Jesus in king cake.