9 Royally Interesting Facts About King Cake

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iStock

It’s Carnival season, and that means bakeries throughout New Orleans are whipping up those colorful creations known as King Cakes. And while today it’s primarily associated with Big Easy revelry, the King Cake has a long and checkered history that reaches back through the centuries. Here are a few facts about its origins, its history in America, and how exactly that plastic baby got in there.

1. IT’S BELIEVED TO HAVE PAGAN ORIGINS.

The king cake is widely associated with the Christian festival of the Epiphany, which celebrates the three kings’ visit to the Christ child on January 6. Some historians, however, believe the cake dates back to Roman times, and specifically to the winter festival of Saturnalia. Bakers would put a fava bean—which back then was used for voting, and had spiritual significance—inside the cake, and whoever discovered it would be considered king for a day. Drinking and mayhem abounded. In the Middle Ages, Christian followers in France took up the ritual, replacing the fava bean with a porcelain replica engraved with a face.

2. IT STIRRED UP CONTROVERSY DURING THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

To bring the pastry into the Christian tradition, bakers got rid of the bean and replaced it with a crowned king’s head to symbolize the three kings who visited baby Jesus. Church officials approved of the change, though the issue became quite thorny in late 18th century France, when a disembodied king’s head was seen as provocation. In 1794, the mayor of Paris called on the “criminal patissiers” to end their “filthy orgies.” After they failed to comply, the mayor simply renamed the cake the “Gateau de Sans-Culottes,” after the lower-class sans-culottes revolutionaries.

3. IT DETERMINED THE EARLY KINGS AND QUEENS OF MARDI GRAS.


A Mardi Gras King in 1952.

Two of the oldest Mardi Gras krewes (NOLA-talk for "crew," or a group that hosts major Mardi Gras events, like parades or balls) brought about the current cake tradition. The Rex Organization gave the festival its colors (purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power) in 1872, but two years earlier, the Twelfth Night Revelers krewe brought out a King Cake with a gold bean hidden inside and served it up to the ladies in attendance. The finder was crowned queen of the ball. Other krewes adopted the practice as well, crowning the kings and queens by using a gold or silver bean. The practice soon expanded into households throughout New Orleans, where today the discovery of a coin, bean or baby trinket identifies the buyer of the next King Cake.

4. THE BABY TRINKETS WEREN'T ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO HAVE RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE.

Although today many view the baby trinkets found inside king cakes to symbolize the Christ child, that wasn’t what Donald Entringer—the owner of the renowned McKenzie’s Bakery in New Orleans, which started the tradition—had in mind. Entringer was instead looking for something a little bit different to put in his king cakes, which had become wildly popular in the city by the mid-1900s. One story has it that Entringer found the original figurines in a French Quarter shop. Another, courtesy of New Orleans food historian Poppy Tooker (via NPR’s The Salt), states that a traveling salesman with a surplus of figurines stopped by the bakery and suggested the idea. "He had a big overrun on them, and so he said to Entringer, 'How about using these in a king cake,'" said Tooker.

5. BAKERIES ARE AFRAID OF GETTING SUED.

What to many is an offbeat tradition is, to others, a choking hazard. It’s unclear how many consumers have sued bakeries over the plastic babies and other trinkets baked inside king cakes, but apparently it’s enough that numerous bakeries have stopped including them altogether, or at least offer it on the side. Still, some bakeries remain unfazed—like Gambino’s, whose cinnamon-infused king cake comes with the warning, "1 plastic baby baked inside."

6. THE FRENCH VERSION COMES WITH A PAPER CROWN.


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In France, where the flaky, less colorful (but still quite tasty) galette de rois predates its American counterpart by a few centuries, bakers often include a paper crown with their cake, just to make the “king for a day” feel extra special. The trinkets they put inside are also more varied and intricate, and include everything from cars to coins to religious figurines. Some bakeries even have their own lines of collectible trinkets.

7. THERE’S ALSO THE ROSCA DE REYES, THE BOLO REI AND THE DREIKÖNIGSKUCHEN.


"Roscón de Reyes" by Tamorlan - Self Made (Foto Propia).

Versions of the King Cake can be found throughout Europe and Latin America. The Spanish Rosca de Reyes and the Portugese Bolo Rei are usually topped with dried fruit and nuts, while the Swiss Dreikönigskuchen has balls of sweet dough surrounding the central cake. The Greek version, known as Vasilopita, resembles a coffee cake and is often served for breakfast.

8. IT’S NO LONGER JUST A NEW ORLEANS TRADITION.

From New York to California, bakeries are serving up King Cakes in the New Orleans fashion, as well as the traditional French style. On Long Island, Mara’s Homemade makes their tri-colored cakes year round, while in Los Angeles you can find a galette de rois (topped with a nifty crown, no less) at Maison Richard. There are also lots of bakeries that deliver throughout the country, many offering customizable fillings from cream cheese to chocolate to fruits and nuts.

9. THE NEW ORLEANS PELICANS HAVE A KING CAKE BABY MASCOT—AND IT IS TERRIFYING.

Every winter you can find this monstrosity at games, local supermarkets, and in your worst nightmares.

Move Over, Gritty: Whizzy the Geno's Cheesesteak Is Philadelphia's Newest Mascot

Meet Whizzy: The new mascot at Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia.
Meet Whizzy: The new mascot at Geno's Steaks in Philadelphia.

When you think of the characters that represent Philadelphia, you might picture Gritty, the Phillie Phanatic, or a Benjamin Franklin impersonator looting a Wawa after the Super Bowl. Now, there's a new mascot presiding over the city of brotherly love. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, Geno's Steaks is now home to Whizzy—a giant, anthropomorphic cheesesteak with a perpetual smile.

Geno's, known for its cheesesteaks and glowing neon facade, is a Philly institution. The restaurant's new mascot is the product of more than eight months of redesigns. His name, an homage to Geno's classic steak sandwich with Cheez Whiz, also went through a several iterations, including "Whiz Head," before the name Whizzy became official.

Geno's Steaks unveiled Whizzy to the world on Monday, October 21. The costumed character has all the elements of a Geno's cheesesteak, with a body consisting a long roll stuffed with cheese, onions, and thinly sliced rib-eye. But unlike the fare you'd normally fine at Geno's, this cheesesteak also has limbs and a face—and barely fits inside the kitchen.

The mascot's debut kicked off Geno's "week of giving." On Tuesday, Whizzy and Geno's owner Geno Vento will deliver a $1500 check to Easterseals, a nonprofit dedicated to children and adults with disabilities, and on Thursday, they will give a check in the same amount to the Engine 10 fire station in South Philly. Geno's will also hand out free coupons and cheesesteaks in honor of the week.

Pat's King of Steaks, Geno's competitor across the street, tells The Inquirer they have no plans to come up with a rival mascot as of yet.

[h/t The Philadelphia Inquirer]

Starbucks Has a New Phantom Frappuccino That’s All Black and Covered With Slime

Starbucks EMEA
Starbucks EMEA

Starbucks is about to release a beverage that looks suspiciously like something Hocus Pocus’s Sanderson sisters might brew in their human-sized cauldron.

If the Tie-Dye Frappuccino was Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, the Phantom Frappuccino is absolutely the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s a sinister-looking mixture of black sludge and green slime, and it seems about as edible as an oil spill.

However, if you’re familiar with the Broadway musical Wicked, you know that Oz's famous villain was tragically misunderstood based partially on her off-putting appearance—so, too, is the Phantom Frappuccino. According to Delish, it’s actually refreshingly fruity, and vegan to boot. The drink contains coconut milk, mango, pineapple essence, crème Frappuccino syrup, and charcoal powder, and the slime is a combination of lime juice, lemon juice, more charcoal powder, and spirulina extract (which is green).

It’s a welcome break for anybody who started sipping pumpkin spice lattes way back in August and is already experiencing burnout. Unfortunately for Americans, this ghoulish drink is only available in Europe; Starbucks is launching it on October 26 for five days only.

An impulse jaunt across the pond for the sole purpose of getting your hands on a delightfully evil-looking Frappuccino might not be the best financial decision, but you can always concoct your own at home—activated charcoal is used in everything from toothpaste to skincare products, and you can buy a whole pound of the powder on Amazon for just $12.

[h/t Delish]

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