It’s Carnival Time!
Kicking off the Carnival season with an ode to King Cake.
That first scent of cinnamon opens your eyes wide. The glistening white icing starts your salivary glands and the green, gold and purple decorations intimidate, yet entice you. Its oval shape is individual, separating it from other pastries. This is no simple coffee cake. And it isn’t brioche either. It’s a New Orleans King Cake, and it, along with champagne, is the best way to launch the beginning of Carnival season.
Wednesday, January 6 brings Twelfth Night, celebrating the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas and marking the Christian feast day of the Epiphany. Twelfth Night ushers in the Carnival season, which culminates on Mardi Gras day. This year, Mardi Gras arrives early on February 9th, bringing a sense of urgent reverie to the festivities.
Tradition holds that king cake should only be eaten during Carnival, making Twelfth Night the first acceptable time you can eat it since the previous year’s Mardi Gras day. Some folks break tradition and eat king cake year-round, which is helpful for local bakeries. I, however, stick with tradition. Limiting my intake of king cake makes it a miracle of a dessert.
Every local has a favorite version, and visitors are encouraged to form strong and lasting opinions of which king cake is their favorite as well. Do you prefer traditional or filled? Fancy or family recipe? Will you drive across town or across the river to buy the cake you have been craving since last February? Will you order your cake online and have it shipped to your house when you can’t visit Nola during Carnival?
My favorite way to eat my first seasonal piece of king cake is to stand on St. Charles Avenue to toast the Phunny Phorty Phellows as they ride by on the streetcar, heralding the beginning of Carnival. I raise my glass (plastic go cup) of champagne and take my first bite of traditional King Cake from Haydel’s and cheer the historic Mardi Gras krewe.
Another way to celebrate all things king cake is at the annual King Cake Festival, taking place at Champion’s Square on Sunday, January 31. It’s an important fundraiser for Ochsner Hospital’s children’s services and will feature over a dozen varieties and vendors of king cake. For visitors to Nola, it’s a great opportunity to sample and compare some of the best king cakes in the region.
As I recently said to a friend, it’s important to be moderate during Carnival. My diet of salad and King Cake serves me well.