Mardi Gras means king cake for local bakeries

Published 12:51 am Wednesday, February 10, 2010

NATCHEZ — This time of year saying “I’ve got the baby” doesn’t necessarily mean the children have been picked up from daycare.

Having the baby could just as easily mean you just bit into the special piece of king cake laced with the small plastic baby.

King cakes are a circular cinnamon-roll-like cake topped with icing and sprinkles and popular during the Mardi Gras season. King cakes were originally used in the celebration of the festival of Epiphany during the Christmas season. The tradition was extended to include the Mardi Gras season.

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The baby, or similar trinket, is placed inside the cake after it is baked, and the person who bites into the piece typically has to provide the next king cake.

With Natchez’s Mardi Gras celebrations in full-swing, king cakes are king at local bakeries.

“This is our first year to do them, but they have been wildly popular,” Uptown Grocery manager Virginia Shafer said. “The last two weeks have been really busy with orders coming in each day.”

Uptown Grocery purchases king cake dough, but everything else is done in house. They proof and cut the dough and braid it, fill and ice the baked cakes, Shafer said making king cakes can be a time consuming task, but it is one the Uptown staff has enjoyed.

“We talked about doing them last year, but we weren’t sure if we had the man-power for it,” Shafer said. “This year we just jumped in and decided to make it work.

“We have developed a good system of proof, baking and icing.”

King cakes can be plain or filled with fruit, cream cheese or a variety of other mixtures.

The dough rises and is then cut into strips and braided to form a circle. The dough then has to rise again before being baked. After the cakes are baked and cooled, they are filled and then iced.

“The filling and the icing are the messiest part,” Shafer said. “I’ll have icing in my hair and all over my clothes at the end of the day.

“But the good thing is, they aren’t supposed to look perfect as long as they taste good.”

Uptown offers king cakes stuffed with cream cheese, strawberry, blueberry, apple, cherry or lemon.

Shafer said she prefers the sweet cream cheese filling that has been the most popular among customers.

“It’s not just plain cream cheese,” she said. “It’s cream cheese and brown sugar and vanilla — it is delicious.”

At Edna’s Cake Creations in Natchez, owner Edna Welch said king cake fillings are only limited by the imagination.

“You can put just about anything you imagine in a king cake,” she said. “We do fruit filled ones and regular cream cheese filled ones.

“The one I try to talk everyone into trying is the caramel pecan one. It’s amazing.”

Welch has been offering king cakes since she opened the store eight years ago. She purchases dough each year to fill orders of all different sizes.

Typically, Welch offers small, medium and large cakes, but said she has filled much larger orders.

“We’ve done giants ones to feed probably 100 people before,” Welch said. “You just put a few of them together and you have it.”

Shafer said king cakes are sold most during the Mardi Gras season, but she’d like to see them sold all year round.

“I’m thinking we could do themed ones for all holidays and parties,” she said. “They are delicious so why should we stop eating them after Mardi Gras?”

Shafer said they have already sold or had orders for approximately 80 to 100 this year.

Welch said each year she has orders for “well over 100.” Welch said king cakes are something people look forward to enjoying.

“They are delicious for one thing,” she said. “Mardi Gras is just one of those great southern things, and when it comes around everyone wants king cake.”