When everyone else is packing up their Christmas decorations in early January and succumbing to a slight post-holiday funk, revelers all around the Gulf Coast (and in Europe and South America, too) are gearing up for another major holiday season: Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras or Carnival, as it’s known in other parts of the world, is a weeks-long celebration of Catholic origins between Twelfth Night/Epiphany (the celebration of the three wise men’s visit to the baby Jesus) and culminating on “Fat Tuesday” (named for the tradition of feasting on meat, milk, cheese, butter, and everything else that tastes good). Today’s celebrations involve parades, balls, beads, luscious and decadent food, and plenty of booze. It’s your one last chance to party until midnight on Ash Wednesday, when everyone goes home to fast and repent for the forty days of Lent. New Orleans is, by far, the most famous North American city to revel; however, 14 years before New Orleans was founded, the fair port city of Mobile, Alabama, held the very first Mardi Gras in 1704.
One of the most ubiquitous (edible) symbols of the Mardi Gras season is a king cake: a braided yeast dough confection filled with cinnamon, glazed, and dusted with sugars in the emblem colors of the season: gold (power), green (faith) and purple (justice). The first king cake hailed from France, and was much closer to bread than cake. A bean, hidden within the dough, granted the finder the privilege of being queen or king of the day. Today, king cakes customarily come with a little plastic baby, representing baby Jesus, for the buyer to place inside the cake. The finder of the baby is granted luck and the obligation to bring a king cake to the next gathering.
I set a lofty goal this season: to taste as many local offerings of king cake as I could, and present the findings to you, dear readers, so that you may be informed the next time you “laissez les bon temps rouler.” The easiest way to do this was to invite a bunch of king cake-loving friends over one Sunday morning. Each brought a local offering, and I provided the coffee and mimosas. The cakes ranged from ultra-traditional to king cake-inspired, and they were all delicious.
Cream and Sugar (Sucré)
The venerable Sucré, a New Orleans confectioner specializing in French macarons, has made their much-lauded king cakes and macarons available to Mobile. Cream and Sugar, the Oakleigh cafe/coffee shop/bakery, receives deliveries of king cakes and macarons from Sucré on Tuesdays and Fridays. The Sucré king cake is for the king cake purists. It’s a cinnamon-scented, buttery brioche with just a whisper of creole cream cheese filling. “Excellent croissant-like texture and the perfect balance of sweetness,” Amy declared. It’s not too sweet and is just right accompanied by a cup of coffee. Flavor: cream cheese. Price: $25. To order, call Cream and Sugar (351 George Street) at (251) 405-0003 or go to Sucré’s website for shipping anywhere in the U.S.
G’s Bakery, a newly opened establishment at on Dauphin Street, has put their own spin on a traditional king cake with a tender, crumbly bundt cake. Decorated with colored glazes, beads and doubloons, the almond cake is flecked with crunchy bits of almonds throughout a ribbon of cinnamon sugar. Kelly said, “it’s the perfect king cake to enjoy with coffee on your front porch.” G’s Bakery also has artisan breads, pastries, sandwiches, and is now serving a weekend brunch. Flavors: Strawberry cream cheese, Bavarian cream, chocolate Bavarian cream, almond, and plain cinnamon. Price: $22. Call (251) 341-7627 or stop in at 1717 Dauphin Street.
Greer’s Downtown Market
The praline king cake (made by Cartozzo’s Bakery in Kenner, Lousiana) available at Greer’s grocery stores has a sunny yellow interior, doubtlessly from the eggs and butter that lend this cake its richness. A generous filling of brown sugar praline oozes out of the sweet dough, and pecans scattered on top of the colored sugar offer up a nutty crunch. Flavors: traditional (cinnamon), cream cheese, praline pecan, praline cream cheese,, strawberry, lemon, blueberry, apple, strawberry cream cheese. Price: $12. Call Greer’s Downtown Market at 851 Government Street (corner of Broad and Government) to order at (251) 432-0100 or visit their website for your closest location.
Greer’s at Cottage Hill
Almost all of Greer’s stores stock Cartozzo’s king cakes; the Cottage Hill location, whose bakers make their own, is the exception. We tried the raspberry filled king cake, which was generously frosted, tightly braided and bursting with filling. With sweet and tender pastry and a perfectly light icing, Greer’s on Cottage Hill makes a lovely, classic rendition of a king cake. Flavors: endless. Price: $7. Call (251) 666-1329 or stop in at 4055 Cottage Hill Rd.
Pollman’s Bake Shops
Pollman’s Bake Shops, one of Mobile’s oldest family-owned bakeries, has been satisfying the area’s sweet teeth since 1918, and their king cakes are no exception. Baked fresh every day, the dough is light and flaky, studded with pecans, and laced with tangy cream cheese. To the classic green, gold, and purple, they add blue and pink for a riotously colorful cake. Included with the cake is a card explaining the baby tradition. They regularly stock cream cheese mini ($2.99), small, large, and extra large king cakes in their store, no order required. For other flavors, call to order. Small and large cakes can be shipped anywhere. Flavors: Plain (cream cheese), or cream cheese strawberry, cream cheese lemon, or cream cheese raspberry. Price: $14-30 depending on size. 4464 Old Shell Road (and various locations) or call (251) 438-1511.
USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital
Although seemingly incongruous, this hospital cafeteria churns out delectable king cakes. It reminded me of the inside of a cinnamon roll (the best part). Elizabeth described it as “gooey, sweet, and underdone in the most perfect way.” Show up at 11am if you want a specific flavor, for they put out twelve a day through Mardi Gras week on a first-come-first-served basis. Flavors: cinnamon, cream cheese, strawberry cream cheese, pecan praline cream cheese. Price: $9.99. Located on the first floor of Children’s and Women’s at 1700 Center Street.
Eastern Shore and Gulf Coast
Allegri Farm Market
This Eastern Shore farmer’s market stocks cakes from the Kenner, Louisiana’s bakery Party Palace. Tender and beribboned with a thick layer of cinnamon and positively covered with sweet icing, this king cake is a classic, sweet treat. Sarah called it, “fluffy and soft,” and I concur wholeheartedly. Flavors: traditional cinnamon, praline, cream cheese, apple, lemon, and strawberry. Price: $19 from Allegri at 9948 Co Rd 64, Daphne or Party Palace ships for $40 anywhere in the US.
Le Bakery & Cafe
If you find yourself in or around Biloxi, stop by Le Bakery & Cafe, Biloxi’s Vietnamese-French bakery. Famous for their banh mi, (a Vietnamese baguette sandwich, usually pork) this cafe also makes a dynamite king cake. Our cream cheese, raspberry, and Bavarian cream filled king cake was huge, heavily frosted, and soft and tender. The Bavarian cream was balanced in its sweetness, which served as a perfect foil to the cake and frosting. Flavors: endless. (I’m intrigued by their “Almond Joy”: chocolate filled with almonds and shredded coconut on top.) Price: $14.99 for standard large size. Stop by at 280 Oak Street in Biloxi, or call (228) 436-0850 to order.
Warehouse Bakery and Donuts
Warehouse Bakery & Donuts, home of the “Squeelin’ Pig Biscuit,” offers seven flavors of king cake, along with their breakfast biscuits and bowls, doughnuts and pastries. They eschew the usual colored sugars in favor of vibrant, opaque purple, green, and gold glazes, making for a particularly gorgeous cake. Dense, like a glazed doughnut, the pastry encases the rich, slightly sweet and tangy cream cheese filling. Flavors: cinnamon sugar, cream cheese, blueberry cream cheese, strawberry cream cheese, raspberry cream cheese, German chocolate, pecan cinnamon sugar. Price: $12-40 depending on size and filling. Stop by at 759 Nichols Ave in Fairhope or call (251) 928-7223 to order.
Bottom line: Mobile (and its surroundings) is home to some delectable king cakes perfect for celebrating our Mardi Gras season. Prefer to bake your own? Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming post, which will include a recipe for homemade king cake!
Did we leave out your favorite local king cake? Please let us know in the comments (or better yet, send us a photo on our Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and we’ll share it!)