Forget about watching your carbs and calories during the first two months of the year. It’s almost impossible to resist a slice or two or three of sugary, yeasty king cake during carnival season. It doesn’t help that south Louisiana bakers entice customers with new king cake flavors and products each year.
King cake mania isn’t limited to baked goods. Mixologists have gotten into the carnival spirit and are creating Mardi Gras-themed drinks.
Joe Gambino’s Bakeries, which started in New Orleans in 1946 and now has locations across south Louisiana, makes thousands of king cakes in 30 different flavors during carnival season, from Kings’ Day, or the twelfth day after Christmas, through Mardi Gras day, which this year falls on Feb. 17.
“We’re baking them fresh every day and can’t keep them on the shelf,” said Paul Scelfo, manager at the 8646 Goodwood Boulevard, Baton Rouge, location. “And, each one is stuffed by hand, we don’t fill them. We bake them with the filling already in there.”
His location’s most popular flavors are cream cheese and the traditional cinnamon and sugar, he said, but Gambino’s new wedding cake and red velvet flavors are top sellers, too. Scelfo said king cake sales go up as the season nears the end. They are like “a snowball rolling downhill as we get closer to Mardi Gras.”
Over at Les Amis Bake Shoppe, 11826 Coursey Boulevard, Baton Rouge, king cakes are baked made to order, said owner Stephanie Hansen. But, the best seller there is its 9-inch King Cake Cheesecake.
“Half of our king cake is the crust at the bottom, and it’s a cinnamon-sugar cheesecake with a fresh cinnamon whipped cream,” she said. “We sell it by the slice ($4.50) in the shop, but we’re doing a ton of special orders for the whole cheesecake ($37).”
One can get tipsy eating three of the four new king cake flavors at Calandro Supermarkets’ 12732 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge, location. Co-owner and buyer Mark Calandro said the most popular of the store’s 45 flavors remains the traditional cinnamon-sugar, but its newest cakes — Big Easy, Bourbon Street, Hangover and Southern Belle — have been selling well.
He described the Big Easy as a praline mix with cream cheese, praline liquor and vodka-infused chocolate. The Bourbon Street is a bourbon-flavored vanilla cake with a cream cheese topping and a chocolate and caramel drizzle, while the Hangover is a vodka-infused chocolate cake with pecans and a topping of Kahlúa, chocolate and pecans. The Southern Belle is a maple-cream cheese flavored cake with maple icing and bacon.
Other big sellers are Bananas Foster; Better Than Sex (coconut, banana, pineapple, pecans, vanilla cake and cream cheese-coconut-pecan topping); Calandro’s Special (coconut, Bavarian cream and pecans); Éclair, with a Bavarian cream filling and a ganache icing; Red Velvet; and Italian, which is flavored like an Italian cream cake.
Like Calandro’s Southern Belle king cake, other bakeries and restaurants are offering bacon-flavored king cakes. Among them is Baum’s Fine Pastries & Chocolates in Baton Rouge, which has a maple-bacon king cake, and Cochon Butcher, 930 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans, which has an “Elvis” cake filled with peanut butter, banana and house-cured bacon topped with marshmallow and traditional Mardi Gras decoration.
Other restaurants are creating riffs on the Mardi Gras king cake, too. Pastry Chef Karen Anderson’s King Cake Whoopie Pie ($8) is served at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, 716 Iberville St., New Orleans. It features a house-made cinnamon cream cheese mousse sandwiched between two fluffy almond cakes and served with crème anglaise and candied citrus zest.
A crowd favorite at SoBou, 310 Chartres St., New Orleans, is the King Cake Old Fashioned ($12). The drink is made of 13 Pennies Rougaroux Praline Rum, El Guapo Twig and Berries bitters, and cinnamon pecan syrup. A plastic baby is frozen in the ice cube for a fun touch.
Bourbon House, 144 Bourbon St., New Orleans, is baking mini praline king cakes with bourbon cream cheese glaze to accompany its popular king cake cocktail, the King Cake Bevvy, which combines classic king cake flavors in a take-off on the restaurant’s frozen milk punch cocktail. It contains Old New Orleans Rum, Orgeat, Louisiana citrus and housemade vanilla gelato and is garnished with the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold sprinkles.