The King Cake History

Feast of the Bean King, by Jacob Jordaens, ca 1640-45The tradition of king cake began in Western Europe with pre-Christian religions. The religious tribes would bake a cake with a coin or a small bean inside, and whichever man got this token was treated as the king of the tribe for that year. However, by the time the year was up, the person deemed king was slaughtered and his blood was spread over the ground to ensure good harvest for the upcoming year.

When Christianity spread through Europe, the custom of the king cake was incorporated into the new religion rather than abolished. Since human sacrifice is not customary in Christianity, the priests used the king cake as a celebration of the kings who arrived at the manger to see the Christ Child. This was done on January 6th, the Epiphany.

This tradition was brought over to America by French settlers to Louisiana, where there was a king cake party every week from the Epiphany to Mardi Gras. A small figurine (usually of a baby) was placed in the cake, and whoever found it was allowed to host the next week’s party and choose a “court” for the party. Eventually, the cake became associated in the United States mainly with Mardi Gras, but is still eaten on the Epiphany in Europe.

The cake is traditionally oval shaped and made of coffee cake dough. Very often there is colored granulated sugar on the top (in gold, green, and purple of course) and sometimes fancier cakes contain a filling of cream cheese or fruit preserves.

Further reading resources:
• Mardi Grad Digest. History of the King Cake
• Wikipedia. King Cake

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A traditional braided King Cake that is a delicious cinnamon sweet bread, covered with a sugary, sweet fondant. Sprinkled with the traditional Mardi Gras-colored sugars of purple (symbolizing Justice), green (symbolizing Faith) and gold (symbolizing Power).
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