What’s King Cake?


The most that many people know about New Orleans’ famous king cake is that there’s a tiny plastic baby inside, and the goal is to get the slice with it. But why? The tradition was transported from France circa 1870 and the oval-shaped cake is part French pasty, part coffee cake, and packed with flavor. It’s in the royal purple, green and gold colors of Mardi Gras to symbolize “justice” (purple), “faith” (green) and “power” (gold). These colors were picked because they are thought to give a nod to the jeweled crown of the wise men who visited the baby Jesus.

Previously, pecans, peas, coins and beans were tucked into the king cake, but today a plastic baby is the most common find. At any party when king cake is served, everybody hurries to see if their piece has the baby. If they do, they’re “king” for a day—but this isn’t about luck. The new king is responsible for holding the next party and offering up king cake.

When to Party

Traditionally a Mardi Gras dessert, today people serve and eat king cake year-round. If you want to experience it for yourself and you’re not in New Orleans during Mardi Gras season, head to Mardi Gras World where a slice of king cake is complimentary with admission. Mardi Gras moves around on the calendar but always happens the day before Ash Wednesday.

On January 6th, the “Twelfth Night,” Mardi Gras/Carnival season kicks off. It’s known as the Epiphany to Christians, which comes from the Greek word “to show.” Jesus showed himself to the three wise men on January 6th, and the king cake plastic baby is a symbol of this event.