Plain or filled?

There was a time when those were our primary king cake options. But nowadays, the beloved Carnival treat might come in the form of a croissant. It might be filled with crushed pralines, gilded with gold flakes or even cradling a brisket burger.

Variations of the venerable king cake will be served, and devoured, during the second annual King Cake Festival on Jan. 25 in Champions Square, where 19 bakeries from across southeast Louisiana will present imaginative interpretations of king cake.

“You’re not walking around, tasting one style of king cake,” said Kathleen McCulla, the director of special events at Ochsner Health System. “We are really running the gamut on what you can do with king cake.”

FroYo Café and Sweets will serve their new king cake croissant — created by Chef Eric Damidot, of the Hyatt Regency — which features a light, buttery croissant topped with king cake icing and colorful confections.

Loretta’s Authentic Pralines will delight festgoers with a king cake filled with a blend of cream cheese and crushed pralines, and covered with a layer of icing, praline pieces and granulated sugar. Haydel’s Bakery and Nonna Randazzo’s will offer the signature king cakes that have made them long-time New Orleans favorites. On the other end of the spectrum, Food Drunk Food Truck will be on hand with their popular king cake burger, which contains house-ground Angus brisket topped with aged cheddar. The burger bun is a cross between brioche bread and a slightly sweet Hawaiian roll, covered in king cake icing and sprinkles.

Since the festival is not exclusive to New Orleans bakeries, Mr. Ronnie’s Famous Hot Donuts from Houma will serve a doughnut-style king cake. These dulcet treats are made with doughnut dough and a house-made glaze, and dusted with purple, green and gold sugar.

“I grew up in Lafayette, so it’s fun to see bakeries from elsewhere come to New Orleans to compete,” said McCulla, who noted that these bakeries will bring along their fans. “I don’t think that this festival would be successful outside of New Orleans, because I don’t see the New Orleans bakeries going to Baton Rouge or Lafayette to compete. There’s something really special about Mr. Ronnie’s, and others outside of our immediate area, coming in to compete.”

Other participants of the King Cake Festival include: Caluda’s King Cakes, Cartozzo’s Bakery, Dirty Dishes Nola, Fare, Gerald’s Donuts, Rue Chow, Sugar Bear, Sweet Savors, Sweets & Eats Cupcakes, The Heavenly Baker, The Posh Baker, and The Heavenly Donut.

After sampling slices of king cake, guests can vote on their favorite Carnival dessert for the “People’s Choice” award.

And, each vendor is welcome to submit their king cake product into a competition that has several categories, such as “Best Baby,” but is not required to do so.

The King Cake Festival begins with a fitness challenge and a half-mile family fun run around the Superdome, so attendees can exercise and work up an appetite before indulging in king cake.

“Being a health system, we want to encourage our friends, family and patients to come out and do the fun run, or the fitness challenge, first,” said McCulla.

The event features a Mardi Gras costume contest and live music, along with a Kids Zone, complete with a “cake walk,” arts and crafts, and a photo booth. This section will be on the deck of the Superdome, since the festival outgrew Champions Square in its first year.

McCulla predicts that the festival will one day snake around the Superdome.

Last year’s inaugural event, which raised more than $160,000 to help families of pediatric patients at Ochsner Hospital for Children, attracted nearly 12,000 people.

“It was pulled together very quickly, albeit very successfully,” said McCulla, who has already begun planning the event for years to come. “This is the beginning of what I hope is our signature pediatric fundraiser, every year.”