Black History

Every Lustrous King Cake Hides One Baby, But This One Hid 5

February  9, 2018
Photo by Alexandra Bowman

I’ve recently discovered my status as an indiscriminate king cake consumer, one who eats far more than he buys. That’s not the party line in my native New Orleans. Here, folk are loyal to their favorite king cakes, waiting in long lines for hours (“so you know it’s real”). My devotion to this holiday treat is unwavering, too. But, during the official king cake season—from Twelfth Night, January 6, until Fat Tuesday, February 13 this year—the tasty goodness is omnipresent, at schools, churches, bars, workplaces, homes. It’s been decades since I’ve found a baby in my slice, one less motivation to buy. But most recently, I crowdsourced suggestions on where to obtain a king cake from my friends on Facebook.

In the comments, Antoine’s Cakes & Pastries was mentioned repeatedly, noted that it’s Black-owned, a rarity. I went to the shop nine years ago and did not order their king cake, truly an error. Gregory Antoine opened his carry-out only shop in Gretna, a suburb of New Orleans, in 1991. Usually, the shop sells donuts, cakes, and buttermilk drops, but until Fat Tuesday, it’s nothing but king cakes. I opted for the traditional, my parents’ favorite: a braided brioche, sometimes with cinnamon, covered with white icing and granulated sugar in purple, green and gold. In the traditional, there is no filling—that was added in the 1970s by a baker named Robert Badon. But Antoine's traditional cake looks different; there’s no granulated sugar. Instead, it’s covered with a thick white icing and has Mardi Gras–colored abstract lines and a few nonpareils. The king cake is soft, moist, and one of the best I’ve ever tasted.

A few years ago a friend gave me an individual-sized king cake filled with apple and goat cheese from New Orleans Cake Cafe & Bakery. The taste was enduring.

I visited the art-adorned Bywater cafe last Saturday, but there was no mention of king cakes on the walls or menu.

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“Do you all sell king cakes?”

“Yes, but we’re sold out.”

I ordered a crab and shrimp omelet and a king cake for the next day, electing to brave the street closures and parade traffic. Their king cakes are circular and have the Mardi Gras colors decorated in random lines across the cake. The filling is perfect, the cake has even flavors, and it will remain a favorite.

I’m steadfast in when I eat king cake—never out of the season. My fiance Ariel and her two sisters and I celebrated their mother Elaine’s birthday on January 21, mid-king cake season, by going to brunch. Afterwards, we strolled down Magazine Street for a surprise and dessert at Sucré. That morning, Ariel specially ordered one of their king cakes. I was reticent. Their king cakes are beautiful and futuristic, with a very thin, doughnut-like glaze, finished with a sprayed-on layer of lustrous dust and edible glitter. I’ve always recalled the look more than the taste.

We sat inside and before the first bites, and the ladies arranged and rearranged the six plated slices and took photos. We sang happy birthday to Elaine, who blushed and shushed her daughters. More photographs. I ate.

“Oh my gosh, Kasimu got a baby,” Ariel exclaimed.

“I’m staying out of that,” her mother said as she flung up her hands and then smiled.

The conversation returned to how great the warm king cake tasted.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Radiah, the oldest sister, said with wide eyes as she lifted a green baby from her slice.

Quickly, the entire table had babies.

“What does this mean,” Radiah asked.

“Mardi Gras?” Elaine guessed. “Money?”

“What does this mean?” Ariel asked this time.

“Wait, are y’all pregnant?” Skyla asked and then gasped.

Proudly, Ariel said: “We’re having a baby.”

Can't make it to NOLA for king cake season? Try making one at home:

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Tessa Jackson
    Tessa Jackson
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L. Kasimu Harris is a writer and photographer.


Tessa J. February 11, 2018
All of the one's you mentioned are must tries (with Antoine's being my go-to king cake); however you missed one: Domenica's.
While one might think a place known for pizzas and pasta wouldn't be able to pull off a king cake, I can assure you that this one at this John Besh establishment is well worth the trip. Here's a picture of it along with thw recipe, if you can't get to New Orleans:
Vanessa D. February 11, 2018
Impeccably written. I learned, I nodded, and I teared up a bit at the end. Congratulations!
bhilz February 9, 2018
Fellow New Orleanian, here! This article was such a delight. While I should be reaching the saturation point with king cake discussions on local fb groups and message boards, I couldn't resist reading this one. The recommendations were totally on point (have had all but Antoine's, which I've also heard is amazing and need to fix, STAT), and of course the ending prompted a reflexive "Aaw!" Thank you for sharing king cake and your lovely family's story on one of my favorite non-nola-based food sites!