Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Munchies: It's King Cake Season!

Although the French Quarter boasts several different markets, including the 24-hour Quartermaster (affectionately known as the Nelly Deli), there is really only one grocery store: the Rouses Supermarket at the corner of St. Peter and Royal streets. So, whenever Dan and I stay in the Quarter, that becomes our grocery, too.

Despite the store's small size, the employees make supreme use of the space, squeezing as much as they can wherever they can. One of my favorite aspects of the place is the pair of windows alongside Royal Street, which are often decorated appropriately for the season. The last time I checked, Saints paraphernalia occupied one window display while Christmas decorations occupied the other.

Indeed, there's another season upon us – once Christmas is over and done with, Mardi Gras will soon be on its way. And it isn't just the calendar that hints to this. On a rack near the front door of Rouses are the treats of the season: king cakes! Of course, these are Christmas in theme – with red and green sprinkles in lieu of purple, green, and gold – but they are basically the same yummy cake that will pepper the city come early January, in celebration of the period between the Feast of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday.

If you've never had one, a king cake is essentially a large cinnamon roll-style cake, shaped like a ring or an oval, and covered with white icing and/or purple, green, and gold sprinkles. Typically, there is a small plastic baby – supposedly meant to represent the baby Jesus – embedded somewhere in the cake. Per tradition, if you accept a piece containing the baby, you must bring a king cake to the next gathering – this is especially true in schools and office settings. Naturally, my stepbrother's oldest child begs to differ – he's already received the baby three times this season, and he emphatically refuses to provide a king cake of his own. (And people wonder why I have no children.)

Besides Rouses' skilled bakery, there are several local institutions known for their delicious king cakes – Randazzo's and Gambino's among them. But, wherever you find one, I wouldn't advise eating too much in one sitting. A little bit of this sweet tradition goes a long way – especially when you're on a diet like me.

20 comments:

Deb@RGRamblings said...

That looks yummy and far too tempting. The fact that I'm wheat intolerant is probably going to help save my butt over the holidays. :) Cool tradition!

Laura Martone said...

It IS pretty yummy, Deb. But sometimes, I wish I had a few food allergies of my own. Sure would make it easier to avoid the dangerous treats.

Becky said...

For years, my birthday present from my parents was a King Cake, shipped from New Orleans :-).

My favorite story about them though is sitting at the Camelia Grill, a hot spot for locals as well as tourists, and overhearing a tourist proclaiming, after seeing a sign on the wall saying "We have King Cake." "Look, honey! They love Matin Luther King so much they have a cake named after him!". OMG! LOL! Funny/ironic on SO many levels!

Laura Martone said...

OMG, Becky! That IS hilarious! New Orleanians love MLK as much as the next Southerner, but to have a whole cake named after him - that's too much! What's even funnier is that, part of why I explained in this post the definition of a king cake is that I was afraid some people would think it had something to do with the famous civil rights leader - and NOT the Catholic traditions of this city, which are easy to forget at times, especially on Bourbon Street. ;-)

marthawarner said...

Oh, yummy!! I opened your post today and instantly wanted Cinnamon Rolls. Good thing I have some in my fridge (even though they probably don't compare to the King Cake... *sigh).

You all have a Merry Christmas!

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Martha! Hope you enjoyed your cinnamon rolls - my hubby loves those things. They might not compare to king cakes, but they're still delicious.

Hope you have a Merry Christmas, too! And, of course, a Happy New Year!

Marguerite said...

Love, love, King Cake, and Rouse's Market! Mardi Gras is right around the corner! Happy Holidays, Laura!

Laura Martone said...

Me, too, Marguerite. Me, too. And I love me some Mardi Gras - a holiday the hubby has yet to experience. Happy holidays to you, too!

Becky said...

Are you kidding? Dan hasn't been to Mardi Gras?! Hmmm... now that I think about it, neither has Chris or the kids. :-O. They've had lots of King Cake though!

Dawn Simon said...

I really have to get to New Orleans--and not just because of the king cake pic! BTW, I thought of you when we saw PRINCESS AND THE FROG because of New Orleans. The blogosphere really makes the world feel smaller, doesn't it? :)

Anita said...

Seems like the plastic king would melt...I wonder if you have to buy them made out of some special material or something. Or am I just overthinking it?

Laura Martone said...

Nope, Becky, no kidding around. Dan's never been to Mardi Gras - I find it hard to believe sometimes, too. Nevertheless, he's fitting right in down here... especially when it comes to the food. (That's funny, btw, that Chris and the kids haven't been either - what kind of New Orleanians are we? LOL!)

Hi, Dawn. So hilarious about the flick. I heard it was set in Louisiana, but I have yet to see it. And you're right about the blogosphere making the world seem smaller. Seems that every region of the U.S. (and beyond) has a bloggy friend in it now. I think it's awesome!

Hey, Anita. Yes, you'd be right. I do believe the wee plastic baby is inserted into the cake after it's baked, not before. But then, I've never made a king cake, so don't quote me on that. ;-)

Steph Damore said...

Merry Christmas Laura! And happy eating too! The king cake looks yummy. I love me some cinnamon rolls too.

On a side note, it seems like New Orleans has so many traditions that I wasn't even remotely aware. Thanks so much for opening my eyes this past year!

Bane of Anubis said...

OMG - I need to get me one of those!

Natalie said...

My husbands family is from Louisiana and he really misses king cakes. One of these years I need to find a New Orleans bakery that would ship one here!

Laura Martone said...

Merry Christmas to you, too, Steph! I'm trying to be a good girl till Christmas day, when, of course, I plan to be a piggy. My mom bought a key lime pie just for me (I know, not very Christmas-y, but still...), and I'm terribly excited. It IS my favorite dessert, after all.

Oh, and you're quite welcome - I love educating folks about this crazy city!

Laura Martone said...

Bane - I should totally send you one. They make really little ones, too, you know - in case you're watching your figure. ;-)

Natalie - That's so cool! I didn't know you had a Louisiana connection. Neat-o! Lots of New Orleans bakeries ship elsewhere. When I was going to school in Chicago, my dad would send me a Randazzo's one every year.

Becky said...

Don't tell me you're a native N.O. and you don't know the King Cake "trick"... (hmmm should I tell?) They DO put it in after it's baked, and if you're sly enough, you take your piece when no one is looking, turn it over and if you see the "slit" that they tuck in into, you can either claim the baby, or return it so you don't have to bring the next one ;-)...

Becky said...

Oh, and Gambinos ships anywhere!

Laura Martone said...

You're kidding, right? Of course, I know that, Becky! When I was little, every time a king cake came to school, I would try to look under the pieces before taking one. Sometimes, McKenzie's fooled me, though. There were often multiple slits in one cake... and I actually WANTED the baby. Mom was footing the bill for the next one, after all. So, what did I care? ;-)

P.S. Yeah, you're right about Gambino's - they do ship anywhere! And they even offer a Kris Kringle cake, which is essentially a red-and-green king cake without the baby. Course, where's the fun in that?