What Are King Cakes And When Do You Eat Them?

There's something to be said for having pumpkin pie when it isn't Thanksgiving, Easter chocolate long before (or after) Easter comes around, or even enjoying a slice of Christmas cake and eggnog during the height of summer. But for those of us who live for the time when you're officially allowed to enjoy a seasonal treat, the time for king cakes is now.

Recipes for king cakes are usually taken out and dusted off before the Christian holiday of Epiphany (aka Three Kings) and they are made continually until Fat Tuesday, which we all know as Mardi Gras, per Today. That season began on Jan. 6 and it ends on Feb. 16, this year. However, the legal window for enjoying king cakes isn't open at the same amount of time and on the same days every year. Food & Wine's Margaret Eby says Mardi Gras or carnival season, can go for between six to eight weeks. Its duration and finish depends entirely on when Fat Tuesday comes around, bringing festivities to an end. 

King cakes aren't actually "cakes"

King cakes can be considered a misnomer because they aren't actually cakes. But if you If love your sweet breads, you're in for a treat. King cakes are made in the shape of a ring, with a rich brioche dough and filled with goodies from cinnamon to chocolate and even cream cheese, per Southern Living. But what sets king cakes apart from other breads of its class are its distinctive decorative dress codes, because there is a method for what may look like colorful madness: gold for power, green for faith and purple for justice. Also, hidden inside the folds of this seasonal brioche is a small plastic baby — and that has a story too.

The publication, which gives us an in-depth look at this New Orleans treat, says there could be two reasons to slip a baby into the batter — one is for the religious symbolism (baby Jesus), the second is because the bread is considered something of an elaborate lucky draw — whoever finds the infant in his or her slice gets to be crowned king or queen of the balls that are held before Mardi Gras.

There are different versions of king cake around the world

King cakes don't have the global Mardi Gras market cornered, because different versions of this popular pastry can be found in different parts of the world (via Delish). In Spain, the pastry is known as the "tortell de reis" and is filled with marzipan cream and decorated with candied fruit. It also comes bundled with two prizes — a legit king figurine and a booby fava bean. The unlucky person who finds the fava bean has to pony up and pay for the treat.

In Mexico, the bread is known as the rosco de reyes, which is only consumed during Epiphany. And if you find the figurine, the dubious honor for hosting a party on Feb. 2, is yours. Then there is the French galette de rois — a flaky pastry filled with creme patisserie and almond cream. If you find the king, you get to wear the paper crown.