Selecting the best king cake - a Mardi Gras tradition
By Kyle Barnett - Jan 24, 2013
The traditional pastry of Mardi Gras is back for the season and bakers who make their own king cakes from well-guarded recipes, as well as stores who opt to buy from larger regional bakeries, are vying for a lock on the St. Charles king cake market.
In an overview of the parish’s offerings, the traditional king cake with braided cinnamon dough and an icing filling has given way to new variations and new traditions.
Perhaps the most striking variation are the king cake cupcakes offered by Two Sisters Bakery in Boutte. The bakery, now in its second year, has improved upon the king cake cupcake concept they introduced to the parish last year. They have added a variety of three king cake cupcakes and fittingly named them after some of the season’s biggest parades – Bacchus, Rex and Zulu. In addition, the sisters who run the bakery, Sarah Foret and Dawn Loyd, diverge from tradition by filling their plump cakes after they are baked.
Foret said her recipe took some trial and error to perfect, but she has stayed with same technique for the past 30 years.
"This is an easy recipe, but you have to follow the rules of the recipe," Foret said. "If you don’t follow the rules you don’t get this, you get a flat king cake and that might be the goal for some. There are so many different varieties of king cakes and I wanted mine to look like that."
Foret said baking has been in her family for years and that she picked it up from her grandfather.
"I use his advice and skill sets, everything that we learned playing with dough as kids," Foret said.
After running Sarah’s Cake Shop in Lockport for 28 years, Foret sold out and moved into Boutte where she said Two Sisters has received a warm welcome.
"We are always so conscientious of the public and how they have embraced us. We grew from day one," she said.
Only a few blocks down on Highway 90 in Boutte is perhaps the parish’s longest running king cake baker.
At Take-Away Donuts, Raj Jain has been baking a variation of the king cake mixing the light, fluffy texture of a donut combined with the taste of the traditional Mardi Gras treat.
Jain, a native on India, said when he took over the donut shop 28 years ago he did not know what a king cake was.
"A lady in January came and I said ‘I don’t know what a king cake is.’ Then this lady said I’ll teach you," Jain said. "She taught me the basics and then I asked my suppliers what to use. Over the years we have tried to buy the best things they’ve got like fillings and everything."
Now one of the most respected king cake bakers in the parish, Jain said he cannot keep the cakes on his shelves during the Mardi Gras season.
In addition to the traditional king cake, Jain has additional offerings including made-to-order themed king cakes and a king cake donut, each adorned with a little golden baby, that customers have been able to order for the past 15 years with their morning coffee.
"On Valentine’s Day I make the heart-shaped ones. For breast cancer awareness someone brought me the design like a bow out of pink," Jain said.
Jain said orders for football-themed king cakes take off when the state’s professional and collegiate teams are still in contention during the Mardi Gras season.
"When the Saints were playing in the playoffs everything we sold was black and gold," Jain said. "Last year LSU was in the championship game, so for two days or three days before we started making them in purple and yellow."
Almost right next door to Take-Away Donuts is Majoria’s Supermarket, who has offered freshly baked king cakes for the past 25 years. Store co-owner Dana Majoria said over that time they’ve grown to sell around 300 cakes throughout the Mardi Gras season.
"We have all different flavors. There has been a succession of different bakers over the years, but the cake keeps on getting progressively better the more people have input into it," Majoria said.
The supermarket also offers made-to-order cakes for those who would like a variation.
"We can make them to order for people who want larger ones or smaller ones," Majoria said. "We had one order where someone asked for a bunch of personal sized king cakes."
At Mariano’s Italian Eatery further down Highway 90 in Luling, owner Jacqueline Dufrene-Diaz said they opted to sell a cake baked by regional baker Nonna Randazzo.
Dufrene-Diaz said the Italian restaurant started selling the cakes after her husband, Mike Diaz, grew up with the owner of Nonna Randazzo’s and happened to bump into him a few years ago.
"They ran into each other and he said ‘hey I’ve got king cakes and I think they’d sell great.’ And sure enough it took off. We sell tons of them," Dufrene-Diaz said. "What I love the most is when you open one up and that smell just kind of comes out of the box."
Mariano’s sells about 1,000 cakes a year in eight varieties and four sizes.
Dufrene-Diaz said they can also have them made to order if the customer calls in advance.
"Pretty much anything the bakery can get I can order as well. I just need a little advance notice because we don’t make them here," she said.
On the East Bank ,the biggest name in king cakes is Gre’Aud Fine Foods in Norco.
Renee Hawkins has been baking the cakes on and off at Gre’Aud for a combined 15 years.
"A lot of places that you go you already have the king cakes made and you just have the variety that is out," Hawkins said. "Here you can pre-order them for any size you a want and any flavor that you want. They are fresh every day and they are really good."
Hawkins receives help from Holly Brooks, who has been assisting her in the bakery for the past five years, as well as Brandi Blackwell, who packages and displays the cakes.
The store bakes 27 cakes per day in the first few weeks of Mardi Gras, which Hawkins said are mostly sold out by the end of the day. As the season progresses they eventually increase their output to more than 50 cakes per day.
Hawkins said the fundamental thing that makes their cakes good is that they are baked fresh every day.
"The freshness that is the key – freshness and lots of filling," she said.
Also on the East Bank, Boulevard Bistro on Ormond Boulevard in Destrehan has begun to offer king cakes. Their king cakes are provided by the Jefferson Parish West Bank coffee and pastry chain Coffee &, which is owned by Destrehan resident Jesse Savaski whose daughter does the baking.
Boulevard Bistro employee Kim Hamric said the Coffee & cakes provided by her establishment are her favorite.
"I can honestly say that I prefer hers over Randazzo’s and not because she’s a personal friend of mine," Hamric said. "I actually do love her king cakes and all of the miniature donuts as well."
Boulevard Bistro also provides king cake by the slice to those who would like a little dessert while dining in.
With so many different kinds of king cakes available in the parish it may be difficult to choose a favorite. So for those who would rather make their own king cakes instead of buying them from the store you can follow a recipe provided by co-publisher Colette Lottinger.
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