We have a shorter-than-usual Carnival season this year, and we’re already more than half way through it. That gives a new urgency to the perennial question of which king cakes you’ve tried and which ones are next on your list.

I’m on the record for my respect and affection for the classic (read: plain) king cake. After all, this is the style that makes all the rest possible. It’s the tradition that feeds the cravings that give king cake its cultural currency and has spawned everything from king cake vodka to king cake earrings.

But thus far this year, I’ve come in a different direction, devoting my king cake capacity to the different twists that come along.

Here are some highlights from the season so far. Some are new (or just new to me), two are frozen, one is savory, they’re all offbeat and they’re all delicious.

King Cake Doberge at Bakery Bar

1179 Annunciation St., (504) 265-8884

The dessert case at this unique bakery/café/bar gleams with purple, green and gold treats this time of year. The crown goes to a creation that rolls together two local obsessions — king cake and doberge.

This seven-level stunner has cinnamon and vanilla-scented cake layered with cream cheese pudding. Balancing airy and rich, those carefully delineated layers keep together as the fork travels through them, giving you stripped peels of cake and cream.

Get some: $7 per slice at the café, whole cakes by special order

Beer, Cider and Bonbon King Cakes at Piety and Desire Chocolate

2727 S. Broad St., (504) 491-4333

Chris Nobles makes his own chocolate from bean to bar at his new Broadmoor chocolate shop. Now he’s making his own offbeat king cakes with his own chocolate and also with his neighbors’ beer, rum and cider.

Piety and Desire king cakes start with traditional braids of brioche and light twirls of cinnamon. And that’s where tradition ends.

The marquee king cake here, dubbed “Da Crown,” has purple and green bonbons dotting the exterior while candied kumquats add gold to the color scheme. Bits of pink peppercorn glitter over a surface of chocolate swoops and broken cacao nibs, and inside there’s more peppercorn and a ganache made with Earl Grey tea.

The pepper sets off the richness of the ganache, and the cake has a dark, more-sumptuous-than-sugary flavor between big detonations of chocolate from the bonbons.

Another called “Dat Double IPA” is a craft beer lover’s king cake. The chocolate is made with Clean Slate IPA, produced three blocks away at Wayward Owl Brewing. Nobles puts hops in the caramel sauce that covers the top, and the cake is garnished with green, leafy hops berries.

Eating this cake does not taste like drinking a beer. Mostly it tastes like full-flavored, not-too-sweet chocolate. But there is a subtle hoppiness running through it.

Finally, the ultimate collaborative king cake here is called “Da Broad Street Band.” The chocolate ganache is made with rum from Roullaison Distilling (located just behind the chocolatier). It’s laced with caramel made using hard cider from Broad Street Cider & Ale, the adjacent tavern that makes its own dry ciders.

In the place of plastic babies, each of these cakes comes with a whole cocoa bean to embed within.

Get some: $33-$39 whole cakes by special order (info@pietyanddesirechocolate.com); slices periodically available at Broad Street Cider & Ale (2723 S. Broad St.)

Crawfish and Goat Cheese King Cake at the Station

4400 Bienville St., (504) 309-4548

This season is the king cake debut for this petite bakery and café in Mid-City, but the Station is diving right in with both a sweet (and fairly traditional) king cake and a stand-out savory cake.

Picture crawfish bread king cake. The salty, highly-seasoned mudbugs are curled in a thick blend of goat cheese and cream cheese, while the “cake” tastes like braided Italian bread. Parmesan is melted over the top between a food-coloring paint job of purple, green and gold. It’s a snack or even a lunch that still connects with the Carnival time spirit.

Get some: $3 per slice at the café, whole cakes by special order

King Cake Gelato at Angelo Brocato’s Ice Cream

214 N. Carrollton Ave., (504) 486-1465

When the hard freeze forced many other neighboring restaurants to close last week, I still found Brocato’s open. Eating ice cream on an icy-cold day at first felt counterintuitive. But this was king cake gelato, which was like countering a bitter freeze with a beautiful one.

This seasonal flavor starts with vanilla gelato strewn with chunks of traditional king cake from Caluda’s, the Harahan-based operation. Vanilla and cinnamon and Carnival colored sprinkles carry the theme through every spoonful.

Get some: Cups and cones, small $3.80, large $6.60 (pints and quarts available)  

Gateau d’Or at Sucre

3025 Magazine St., (504) 520-8311; 622 Conti St., (504) 267-7098; 3301 Veterans Blvd., (504) 834-2277

The flagship king cake from this stylish New Orleans dessert brand has iridescent frosting and airbrushed purple highlights. Only by comparison could pastry chef Tariq Hanna’s limited-run gateau d’or seem subtle. A seam of dark chocolate cream runs through the center, while a blend of caramel and milk chocolate glazes the top, with crunchy pearls of candied crispy rice gild the lily.

Get some: $29.50 whole cakes (shipping available only through Jan. 31, 2018).

King Cake Milkshake at Frey Smoked Meat Co.

4141 Bienville St., (504) 488-7427

The kid was staring at me, and I didn’t blame him. He was having lunch with his parents and his wide eyes were locked on the king cake milkshake that I was eating all by myself at the next table. This is a milk shake the size of a milk carton, trimmed with Carnival-color sugar sprinkles, whipped cream and a wedge of the distinctive king cake from Dong Phuong bakery. It had a big purple straw and a tiny plastic baby.

The ice cream had cinnamon and vanilla flavors, and between slurping the melting portion and running the spoon through the rest, I alternately used the milkshake as a dip for the layered, cream cheese-frosted king cake slice.

The kid kept staring. I wanted to tell him “don’t worry, some day you’ll be middle-aged too, and you can make great decisions just like this.” But then I figured maybe his parents wouldn’t appreciate my coaching. Anyway, I had my hands full with my milkshake.

Get some: $10 milkshake




Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.