King Cake for Mardi Gras!

Kim Conte

Ever wondered the history behind the King Cake—the traditional cake served at Mardi Gras celebrations? And what's with the plastic baby hidden inside?

According to, the King Cake ritual originated in pre-Christian societies in Western Europe: whoever found a bean or coin placed in the cake was crowned King for a year. The tradition was later adopted by Christians in medeval Europe who served the cake on the Feast of the Epiphany—12 days after the birth of Jesus, when the three kings were said to have visited. Sometime in the late 1800s, folks in New Orleans made the tradition their own by using the cakes to choose queens and kings to preside over their parades and celebrations of Carnival season.

Today, King Cakes are elaborately decorated cakes made with everything from nuts and fruit to cheese and chocolate. They can even be made of a ring of cinnamon rolls. The cakes are typically colored with purple, green, and gold (the colors of the Carnival), and contain a trinket—usually a bean, a coin, or a plastic baby figurine. (I thought it was funny when I heard that some bakeries sell trinkets on the side of the cake because of the liability of choking or swallowing said trinket.)  Whoever gets the trinket in their piece is said to have good luck all year round. The only catch? They have to bring the King Cake next year.

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