History of the King Cake...
The King Cake’s story from humble sugared bread to the rich and gorgeously decorated cake we see in New Orleans is long and winding. It starts in Europe as part of the King of Fool’s festival around New Years (which itself can be traced back to early Christians bringing the traditions of Rome’s Saturnalia festival to the early church) where someone would be “elected” the King of fools- the person who would direct the festivities of the day. There were various methods to electing the King (the Abbé de la Malgouveme in France or Abbot of Bad Governing loosely translated,) but one that caught on was baking a bean into a loaf of sugared bread. The person who found it would be King. This tradition continued for centuries (so much so that it even showed up in works of fiction like The Hunchback of Notre Dame) until the Catholic church, and later the Protestant Reformation, tried to put an end to the celebrations. In an effort to save the festivities it was rebranded to be more Christian, celebrating the journey of the Three Kings’ pilgrimage to find the newly born Jesus. Thus, the pastry was also rebranded the King Cake. Over time the bean turned into a figure of a baby (representing the Christ Child). The Pastry itself changed as moved for region to region featuring everything from candied fruit in one country to pull apart sweet buns decorated with nuts in another. Here at Strands we make two variations which hail from French traditions: the Galette Du Rois of Northern France and the New Orleans style King Cake descended from the Gâteau des Rois of Southern France.
Louisiana King Cakes
In Louisiana the first Mardi Gras festivities were thought to be brought over by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville himself as he set up camp 50 miles south of what is now New Orleans. The King Cake itself is believed to have made its way over from Southern France to Louisiana almost 200 years later. The original cake was simply a ring of sweet dough sparsely decorated. Colored sugars came later as the crew of Rex gave Mardi Gras its official colors from traditional Christian color symbolism with green for Faith, purple for Justice, and gold for Power. Over time frosting was added, and in recent years the cakes have been flavored and filled (unintentionally bringing it a tiny bit closer to its Northern French relative).
Galette des Rois
This style of cake features flaky puff pastry style layers with a center of fruit or Frangipane. (Frangipane is a rich filling, made from or flavored with Almonds, which is associated with Christmas In France - a fitting choice for the center of a King Cake.) Like it’s southern counterpart it has la fève — which literally means ‘the bean’ since it was originally a bean which was meant to “draw the Kings”—harkening back to the traditions that started the King Cake.