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What Is King Cake? The Story Behind the Mardi Gras Pastry

This colorful treat comes with a surprise inside!

For many people, it's not Mardi Gras without a king cake. During Carnival season, bakeries and shops in New Orleans crank out thousands of purple, gold, and green pastries. But it's not just a tradition in New Orleans—this treat has a rich history in many parts of the world, including Spain, Mexico, and France. So...what is king cake, exactly? Read on to learn more about this special sweet!

King cake season starts on January 6, which is known as Three Kings' Day, Twelfth Night, or the Epiphany, and lasts until Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. (Fat Tuesday is also known as Shove Tuesday and it's a day for king cake tradition came to New Orleans from France in 1870.

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Why is there a plastic baby in king cake?

It is very common to find a small plastic baby figurine hidden within a ring of king cake. While there are many beliefs, some say that the figurine represents the Baby Jesus. (During the celebration of Epiphany, it is recognized that the Three Kings or Wise Men brought gifts to the Baby Jesus.) Things like beans, coins, and pecans have also been hidden inside a king cake instead of a plastic baby. As tradition goes, whoever finds the trinket inside their slice of king cake is crowned king or queen for the day—it's a symbol of good luck.

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What does king cake taste like?

King cake is like a rich, sweet danish, with flavors of cinnamon and sometimes cream cheese or pecans. It's called a cake, but it tastes more like a pastry!

When is king cake eaten?

King cake is typically made and eaten starting January 6, known as Epiphany, and through to Mardi Gras—this is Carnival season. Mardi Gras often takes place in February but sometimes occurs in early March. In 2021, Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, February 16.

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