What Is King Cake?

A festive dessert with a surprise in the center

What Is... King Cake?
flickr/Back to the Cutting Board

The concept behind the king cake is simple. It's a cake made from cinnamon and honey with a hollow circle, and somewhere inside the cake is a small plastic baby doll. Whoever finds the figurine in their slice must bake or purchase the next cake.

How did this tradition come about? It all began in Europe, with the advent of the celebration of Epiphany, a Christian holiday that takes place 12 days after Christmas, celebrated in many parts of the world. The original interpretation of the cake is that it is a symbol for the three wise men who brought gifts for the baby Jesus. The celebration culminates in a grand feast and an exchange of gifts among family and friends.

However, here in the United States, the king cake is most often associated with the celebration of Mardi Gras. The top of the cake is decorated with the trademark symbolic colors of the celebration — purple, green, and gold, each representing justice, faith, and power, respectively. Here, the hidden surprise takes on another meaning. It is often said that whoever is lucky enough to receive that slice with the figurine becomes the king or queen for a day — surely a welcome surprise, unless, that is, one is unfortunate enough to bite down on the doll. So eat your king cake carefully...

Click here to see David Guas' King Cake Recipe.


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