I Tried My First King Cakes in New Orleans, and They Were Awesome

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King cake from Manny Randazzo [Photographs: Carrie Vasios Mullins]

When I tried my first piece of king cake I was about five drinks deep standing on a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street. Or as they call it in New Orleans, at a rehearsal dinner. The world looked something like this

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So many colors...

"This is so good!" I shouted to the bride-to-be, who was too busy dancing to hear me. "So good," I murmured and scuttled back over to the table in the corner, a carb-y mecca festooned in purple, green, and gold. I took another piece and really tried to focus on the flavors. But just as I was noting the hint of cinnamon in the dough, two policemen burst into the suite and started yelling and gesturing with their hands. I was pretty sure I was innocent, but I shoved some cake in a napkin and hightailed it back to my hotel room just in case.

The next morning I tried the king cake again and, when I finally got out of bed, gathered some facts. It turns out the cakes were from Manny Randazzo. Randazzo was once a full service bakery, but their king cake became so popular that now it's all they make. You can choose from a variety of fillings such as strawberry, apple, cream cheese, or the popular pecan praline. The slices of cake I grabbed were the traditional version, which features a yeasted dough with a cinnamon filling and a plain sugar glaze.

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Slice of the traditional cake

As I took bite after bite I thought, this is good. Really good. The dough was sweet and light, with the slight chew of a good danish. The cinnamon filling was mild enough that it flavored the cake without masking the buttery, eggy taste of the dough itself. The icing was sweet—as it's supposed to be, it is king cake—but not so liberally applied that it overpowered the bread. I could have eaten an entire ring, and not just because I was kind of hungover.

Later that day, I found myself at Cochon Butcher because obviously the thing to do in NOLA is to pregame a giant wedding feast with the best muffaletta on the planet.

There must be a plastic baby jesus smiling down on me somewhere, because when I got to the register, I saw I was surrounded by king cakes. I asked the kind woman working there for some advice on which to try, and she pointed me to the Elvis ($3.50/slice).

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The Elvis

This thing is no joke. In homage to the king of rock n' roll, a traditional yeasted king cake dough is stuffed with a peanut butter pastry cream that has caramelized bananas folded in. It's topped with candied bacon, house made marshmallow, and Mardi Gras sprinkles. Elisabeth Davies, the assistant pasty chef, explained that "Pastry Chef Rhonda Ruckman came up with the Elvis with a former employee, Mike Carmody, who is now at Domenica, where they make the gold-leafed banana pecan king cake. They experimented with a bunch of different flavors last fall before deciding on the variety we have now."

As you'd expect, the Elvis is much more intense than a traditional king cake, and much more like a full on dessert. The banana-peanut butter filling tastes almost like a little bit of cream pie got stuffed inside the bread. The bacon, as follows with any of Cochon's meats, is delicious—a mix of porky, smoky, sweet, and crisp. The marshmallow takes the form of a sticky spread across the top of the cake, and I think you have to like marshmallow Fluff to enjoy it (luckily I do, and I was licking it off the plate.) Unless you're having this as your meal, I'd suggest you get one piece to share with two people—it's a doozy.

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It turns out I was lucky to even get a slice of the Elvis. Cochon only makes it between January 6th and Mardi Gras, and it's only available for purchase at the butcher shop, where it tends to run out quickly. Manny Randazzo ships nationwide (always overnight so the king cake is fresh) and, joy of joys, is available year round.

About the author: Carrie Vasios Mullins is the editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. She likes to peruse her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar. You can follow her on Twitter @carrievasios

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