The king cake tradition came to New Orleans from France about 150 years ago. Then, historians say, in the late 19th century, the Twelfth Night Revelers started hiding a bean inside the cake to choose a king and queen, paving the way for today’s plastic babies.
By 1950, king cakes had become a fixture thanks to commercial bakeries such as the old McKenzie’s, whose simple, moist brioche version topped with colored sugar was the standard for decades.
Filled cakes moved up the food chain in the mid-’80s, and continued evolution has taken a “more is more” mentality, with the cakes becoming sweeter, gooier and more complex. Thus, for example, the raspberry Nutella and honey almond thyme king cakes at Teddy’s Cafe in the Roosevelt Hotel, or the praline cream cake, topped with praline drizzle and candied pecans at Manny Randazzo’s Bakery in Metairie.
The sweet somethings even have their own festival: The King Cake Fest, a benefit for Ochsner’s children’s programs, will be held Jan. 31.