As a city, we seem to have agreed that wedding cake flavor is almond. It’s a bit murky as to how this evolved, but in the Crescent City it is a truth universally acknowledged, and we know this because we find “wedding cake” flavored snowballs, cocktails and desserts all around town.
Now, as a city, we seem to be heading toward agreement on another cake taste: “king cake flavor.”
It has become an issue for a city that, in recent years has fetishized — as one colleague put it — this centuries-old and once quite simple Carnival season cake.
Each season, a growing number of bakers, bartenders and chefs around town come up with king-cake inspired goodies for us to try. They range from cocktails to eclairs to milk shakes. See some of them here.
So, what is king cake flavor? (Heck, what is a king cake, for that matter. Read my definition of New Orleans-style king cake here.)
In the “Mardi Gras Food Glossary” on the Southern Food & Beverage Museum’s website, “King Cake” is defined, in part, this way: “A simple cinnamon flavored brioche dough is the usual base, which is then covered in purple, green, and gold sugar. It used to be hard to find anything else, but flavors and styles of king cake have exploded in recent years. Cream cheese, coconut, boudin, and pralines are common fillings now, with hundreds of other flavors available at different shops.”
To illustrate that point, the glossary includes an entry for “King Cake Flavored Things” and defines it this way: “Another recent trend in New Orleans is to hop on the King Cake flavor profile and make everything (and we really do mean everything) taste like King Cake. A stroll through Rouses these days will present you with King Cake Vodka, King Cake Beer, King Cake ice cream, King Cake coffee, King Cake smoothies, and much more.”
What king-cake-flavored treats most often have in common are two flavors — cinnamon and vanilla. Running a close third is cream cheese.
It’s true that these days, cinnamon roll king cakes are considered traditional, but cinnamon was not always synonymous with New Orleans-style king cakes.
In “The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook: Sesquicentennial Tradition Edition,” the Twelfth Night or King’s Cake recipe calls for flour, eggs, butter, yeast, salt and candies to decorate. And, the traditional French gallette de rois is made with puff pastry and almond paste.
Finally, the much-loved McKenzie’s king cake, was a simple brioche cake, dusted with sugar with no discernible cinnamon flavor.
A number of king cake-makers in town said the cinnamon roll cakes became popular in the 1980s when king cakes became more popular and more readily available.
“It was not really until the grocery industry got involved that traditional became cinnamon,” Chaya Conrad, who co-owns Bywater Bakery with her partner Steve Walkup, said when she opened in 2017.
She wanted to create non-cinnamon traditional cake when she opened, so her traditional king cake, which she calls a “carnival,” has none of that spice.