It’s Carnival Season in New Orleans, and for this city of foodies, that means one thing above all else: it’s King Cake Season. Ever since the Basques brought king cake to the Gulf Coast in 1718, king cakes have become synonymous with Carnival, and you can’t walk into a grocery store, coffee shop, or even gas station from January 6th through Mardi Gras day without seeing boxes of the colored sugar confections for sale. The New Orleans classic king cake is filled with layers of cinnamon, iced, and sprinkled with purple, yellow, and green sugar. Hidden inside is a plastic baby (a bean in the olden days), and whoever finds the baby buys the next king cake!
While there’s nothing wrong with a classic, and many places do the classic quite well, this wouldn’t be New Orleans if there was just one variety of king cake. In fact, there are just about as many types of king cakes as there are people in the Crescent City. Down here during Carnival just about anything imaginable comes with a king cake spin. And that, #FrayLife readers, is where our story begins.
Even though I’ve lived in New Orleans for nearly three years, I’m still very much a foreigner when it comes to cultural institution that is king cake. I set out on what I’ve now come to realize is an impossible task: the task of writing an article about the best king cake in the area. I did some research, I asked around, and in the last two week’s I’ve tried 14 different kinds of king cake, and even attended the King Cake Festival. The problem is, there will always be more king cake. Not only will there always be another bakery or restaurant to try, but the bakeries and restaurants I’ve already tried are constantly putting out new varieties and flavors. So, the real question becomes: what are you looking to get out of your king cake?
Do you want somewhere to grab a slice and a cup of coffee in the morning? Do you want a cheap whole cake to bring to the office? Do you want something fancy to impress at your next party? There’s a king cake, or king cake-inspired treat to meet every need. Read on for my findings from my quest for the best king cake.
MOST IMPRESSIVE LOOK
Sucré (multiple locations)
This king cake definitely got my top marks for presentation. Their spin on the classic look is gold, yellow, and green metallic edible paint and sparkles. Flavor-wise it’s extremely sweet (after all, the shops name does translate to “sugar”) and it’s heavy on the icing, but it’s undeniably a showstopper. During Carnival you can get a slice of king cake plus a coffee or scoop of gelato (yes, they have king cake flavored gelato, too) for $5.00, and they never run out, so it’s one of the only places where you can get your king cake fix in the evening. They sell their regular cakes whole as well, and this year, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can buy one of their limited-edition Tabasco king cakes.
BEST PLACE FOR COFFEE & A SLICE
PJ’s (Multiple Locations)
New Orleanians love our city, and as such, we don’t go to Starbucks (if we can help it), we go local to PJ’s or CC’s. While CC’s serves a king cake flavored cake ball, most PJ’s sell slices of the real thing (both locations I went to served cake from Caluda’s). Enjoy your slice with their king cake latte, or a king cake protein velvet ice.
BEST VARIETY OF SLICES
Bywater Bakery (Bywater)
The flavors are always rotating at Bywater Bakery, and on any given day you can try upwards of five different varieties by the slice, which is fairly unusual for a small bakery. They also don’t run out as quickly as other local bakeries (many of the ones I tried to go to were sold out before noon!), so you’re much more likely to actually find a slice at Bywater. They also serve small plates and drinks, so you could even make a meal of it. (I also have to mention that they bake the best scones my husband and I have ever had, and trust me, we’ve had a lot of scones.)
BEST VARIETY FOR WHOLE CAKES
King Cake Hub (Mid City)
New to the scene this year from Pizza Nola is King Cake Hub, your one-stop-shop for all your king cake needs. They sell 28 different king cakes from local bakeries, as well as bakeries all over Southern Louisiana. Unique cakes like those from Girls Gone Vegan and NOCCA are represented, as well as classics like Gambino’s and Hi Do Bakery. The best part? You can pre-order your cake online, so there’s no wait. Just pick it up and enjoy!
BEST DEAL FOR A SLICE
Langenstein’s (Uptown, Old Metairie, & River Ridge)
At $0.99 for a tasty piece of classic king cake, Langenstein’s can’t be beat. It’s got cinnamon-y layers, icing, and colored sugar- what more could you need? They also sell a variety of other bakeries’ king cakes, including the NOCCA cake, and when it’s not sold out, the elusive Eat Fit Nola King Cake.
BEST DEAL FOR A WHOLE CAKE
Winn- Dixie (Multiple Locations)
I brought home a whole king cake from Winn-Dixie because it was $5.00 (for a “small” cake, which could easily serve 8 people), and I figured my husband could bring the rest to work for his co-workers. The cake never made it out of the house. In fact, of all the cakes I tried, this was my second-favorite. It’s got multiple cinnamon layers and a nice icing on top. As far as classic king cakes goes, this one is great!
BEST WAY TO TRY OUT ALL THINGS KING CAKE
King Cake Festival (Downtown, Annual Event)
The annual King Cake Festival featured 26 different king cake booths, as well as a food truck selling king cake burgers (a burger served on a king cake bun, and yes, it has colored sprinkles!). The highlights for me were Sugar Love Cakes (Slidell) king cake and Quintin’s (Irish Channel) king cake ice cream, but the longest line was definitely for Cannata’s (Houma) Gooey Butter king cakes. Judges named Brandon Bordelon’s Buttermilk Drop Bakery king cake Best in Show.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy king cake during Mardi Gras? Share with us in the comments and tag #FrayLife and #NOLAFray on social!
Looking for some cardio after over indulging on king cake? Take a hike, NOLA has plenty of amazing hiking trails to keep you in shape.
View More Articles By Katie Baer