King Cakes: One of the most popular foods during Mardi Gras (March 4, 2014) is the king cake,
consumed by the carload and traditionally sold in bakeries, grocery stores and
delis from January 6 to Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent in the Western Christian
calendar). Locals and visitors alike eat king cake for breakfast, coffee break, and
dessert. In fact, almost any excuse to grab a slice will do.
The tradition of king cake dates back to the Middle Ages when a popular devotion during Christmas was placed on the Three Wise Men (or Kings) who followed the North Star to find Christ. The twelfth night after the birth of Christ marks the end of Christmas and the celebration of Epiphany. Thus, Twelfth Night in some cultures became a time for pageants and giving special presents to children. Along with gifts came the celebratory cake, or king cake.
Today's king cake is a confection made of braided Danish pastry, laced with cinnamon. It is always iced in the Mardi Gras colors of purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power). Hidden in each king cake is a tiny plastic baby (said to represent Baby Jesus). The person who gets the baby various privileges and obligations and must buy the next king cake or host the next party.