“Laissez les bons temps rouler” is Cajun French for “Let the good times roll.” With the start of Mardi Gras, everyone will begin hearing that phrase quite often. Another favorite Mardi Gras tradition is the King Cake. But what is it, and why do they put plastic babies in there?
King Cake is a frosted seasonal treat usually eaten between January 6, known as King’s Day or Twelfth Night, and Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras, is a movable celebration whose date is determined by Easter. It’s celebrated exactly 47 days before Easter Sunday. The date can vary from as early as February 3 to as late as March 9. Typically, king cake is made of a rich brioche dough and a wide array of fillings, such as cinnamon, chocolate, and cream cheese. Mardi Gras king cake is topped with glaze and sprinkles, which are usually gold, green, and purple. The colors of the icing (and the royal colors of Mardi Gras) have a deeper meaning. Gold represents power, green is associated with faith, and purple illustrates justice.
The name King Cake is derived from the Three Wise Men in the Bible, who came bearing gifts for the newborn Jesus on the Twelfth Night. King cake is first served on King’s Day (January 6) and lasts through the eve of Mardi Gras to celebrate the three kings’ coming and honor them with a delicious homage to their jeweled crowns.
Hidden in the cake’s interior, or under a slice, is a small plastic baby. The plastic baby symbolizes the infant Jesus because of the religious connection to King’s Day. Tradition dictates that finding the baby in your cake piece symbolizes luck and prosperity, and the finder becomes the “king” or “queen” of the evening. The person who hosts the Mardi Gras party buys or makes the king cake. Whoever finds the baby is said to be prosperous in the coming year and takes on the responsibility of providing the king cake for the following year. If you are a lucky host and plan to bake the cake, keep food safety in mind. Make sure the baby is clean and made of food-grade plastic that will not melt in the cake.
Whether celebrating time-honored traditions or simply enjoying some delicious sweets, Mardi Gras King cake is full of fun.
- (n.d.). King Cakes. Neworleans.com. Retrieved February 6. 2023, from https://www.neworleans.com/events/holidays-seasonal/mardi-gras/history-and-traditions/king-cakes/
- Darrisaw, M. (2022, October 21). The Real Meaning Behind The Mardi Gras King Cake. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.southernliving.com/holidays-occasions/mardi-gras/king-cake-meaning
- VanSchmus, E. (2022, June 11). How the King Cake Tradition Began—And Why There’s a Plastic Baby. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from https://www.bhg.com/holidays/mardi-gras/baby-in-king-cake-tradition/#:~:text=When%20a%20king%20cake%20is,%22queen%22%20of%20the%20evening.