It’s Carnival Time!
As Al Johnson sings, “It’s Carnival time … everybody’s havin’ fun!”
In fact, Carnival season has been going on for a week now, having begun as true to tradition on January 6, the Twelfth Night of Christmas. Carnival kicks off in New Orleans with the very first Carnival ball that night, put on by a krewe called the Twelfth Night Revelers. Also that night, another group called the Phunny Phorty Phellows take over a streetcar for their first-night-of-Carnival revelry.
We’ve got a nice long Carnival season this year, which I love — Mardi Gras Day isn’t until March 8. That means there’s more time for … King Cake! You can read more about the tradition at the links, but in a nutshell … King Cakes are a sweet, coffee-cake like ring cake decorated with purple, green and gold sugar (the colors of Mardi Gras), available from Twelfth Night until Mardi Gras Day. (There are those who make them available year-round, but it is BLASPHEMY! BLASPHEMY, I TELL YOU! to eat King Cake anytime other than between these dates. Just don’t.) Baked into the cake is a small plastic baby, and if you get Da Baby in your piece of King Cake, you are obliged to throw the next King Cake party. This is a lot of fun, but can be problematic if your luck (good or bad, depending on your perspective) leads you to get the baby numerous times in one Carnival season. As a cartoon in artist Bunny Matthews’ old “F’Sure!” strip, which featured actual dialogue heard in New Orleans once portrayed, a guy said, “Yeah, when I was a kid at St. Rita’s, I got da King Cake baby five pawties in a row! My mama almos’ died,” to which his podna’ replied, “Yeah brah, ya shoulda swallowed dem!” (If this isn’t hilarious to you … well, it’s a New Orleans thing; you wouldn’t understand.)
Expatriate New Orleanians and others who love the city are now, thanks to the fact that we live in Da Future, ordering King Cakes over the Internets! They’re a bit expensive to ship, but as far as I’m concerned it’s worth every penny. Those of us who have baking skills or who live too far away for reasonable shipping, both of which apply to my friend Tiare in Sweden, make things easier by simply making their own!
I can’t bake worth a hoot, so this year I got mine from my old high school classmate Manny Randazzo’s King Cakes, which are some of the best in town. The first one I tried this year is one of his Pecan Praline King Cakes, which sounds really good. It was JUST delivered, and we’ll haul it to Seattle tomorrow to bring a little touch of Carnival to the snowy Pacific Northwest.
Speaking of pecan praline … King Cakes have come a long way since I was a kid. I grew up on the plain, dry, bready King Cakes made by McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppes, and I loved ‘em. A lot of people didn’t (the plain, dry, bready bit being a big reason why), but I suppose it’s a nostalgia thing for the rest of us. Most “plain” King Cakes today are at the very least a sweet, moist cinnamon coffee-cake dough, and many have myriad fillings — fruit, vanilla, chocolate, etc. Pecan praline is a new one on me though — nice going, Manny ‘n krewe — and I can’t wait to try it.
There are those who might want to take their King Cakes a bit … further. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Larry Ragusa.
Could it be … the ultimate King Cake? Awrite … I know what you want.
(Thanks to Greg Beron for sending this to me; that’s his brother Larry portraying “Larry.”)