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Where to Find the Best King Cakes During Mardi Gras

Our contributor from New Orleans explains the Mardi Gras tradition of king cakes and what local bakeries have her favorites.

10:00 AM EST on February 1, 2024

The King Cake from Joe Gambino’s Bakery in New Orleans. Photo by Eugenia Uhl.

The city of New Orleans kicked off the Mardi Gras season on January 6 with Big Easy traditions including the city’s iconic king cake. The carnival season is an extravagant celebration of traditions that will continue until Mardi Gras day, also known as Fat Tuesday, February 13. The celebration ends the night before Ash Wednesday, at the start of the season of Lent.

Growing up in New Orleans, I eagerly awaited the arrival of Mardi Gras. It was a special time of year for my family as we rode together on beautifully decorated themed floats in New Orleans parades.

As we approached the crowds at each parade stop, there was a sea of extended hands waving in the air, as the parade-goers positioned themselves to catch the trinkets we threw from our float called “throws.” I can vividly recall the sounds of street music and marching bands.

As our float strolled through the city streets, there were crowds of locals and tourists alike that were shouting the traditional parade phrase, “Throw Me Something Mister.”

As a child, it was a feeling of happiness and excitement to experience life in New Orleans during this vibrant and magical season.   

One of the most beloved traditions and offerings of this season is the king cake, a cherished part of the Mardi Gras celebrations. The local bakeries pride themselves on creating king cakes that are uniquely their own.

For a closer look at Mardi Gras, king cakes and those featured in this article, watch this original video.

Locals particularly love the traditional king cake. It is customarily made using a rich Danish dough or sweet brioche with added cinnamon swirls. Several bakers braid the dough to incorporate cinnamon between the braids to evenly distribute the flavor. The dough can be created in a variety of sizes, but shaping the dough into a large oval ring is most common. The cake is then covered with a white sweet glaze icing and beautifully embellished with purple, green, and gold sugar, reminiscent of the festive colors of Mardi Gras. The royal colors of Mardi Gras have a significant symbolism. Purple represents “justice,” while green symbolizes “faith,” and gold signifies “power.”

Included in the king cake is a small plastic baby figurine. The plastic baby is placed inside the king cake as one of the Mardi Gras customs. The hidden baby is associated with numerous beliefs. It is seen by some as a symbol of Baby Jesus and linked to Catholicism. Receiving the plastic baby in the king cake slice is also believed to bring good luck and prosperity. In NOLA, one popular tradition is for the person who receives the hidden baby in their slice of cake to bring the next king cake or host the next Mardi Gras celebration. This ensures the parties and festivities will continue during the entire Mardi Gras season.

Here are my top two bakery picks for Mardi Gras King Cake.

Joe Gambino's Bakery in Metairie, located just a short distance from the French Quarter, has remained a popular bakery for 75 years.

The bakery is known as "The King of King Cakes." My go-to favorite king cake from Gambino’s is the Bavarian cream filled. It has a perfectly balanced filling that is light, sweet, and creamy. It's so irresistible that I can never stop at just one slice!

In Metairie, the bakery is known for its prominent landmark, a nostalgic Joe Gambino’s Bakery sign that towers over 30 feet. When the sun sets, it becomes  brightly lit and can be spotted from a distance.

Nonna Randazzo’s Bakery has been known for their authentic family recipe since 1965. The bakery opened its first location in Covington in 2006. They later expanded to a second location in Chalmette, and a third storefront and baking facility in Mandeville.

I can’t resist indulging in Nonna Randazzo’s pecan praline king cake. It’s my absolute favorite! The cinnamon hand braided sweet dough combined with pecans and topped with the bakery’s signature pecan praline sauce is not only delicious and spot on, but it is what makes me fall in love with this bakery all over again.

Nonna Randazzo’s king cakes embody the true spirit of Mardi Gras with their endless selection of sweet king cake fillings, including strawberry, cream cheese, and blueberry — and that’s just for starters.

The Mardi Gras king cake is deeply rooted in cultural traditions. You can always expect to find king cakes at any of our Mardi Gras festivities. No Mardi Gras celebration would be complete without it!

Come on down to NOLA to enjoy Mardi Gras with us and to try our king cakes. Who knows: Maybe you’ll have the baby in your slice and have to come back again to throw a party!

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