Migration of Culture

Private: From Galette des Rois to King Cake: Exploring a shared culinary heritage

This tradition is part of New Orleans culture because the city was originally settled by the French. ~ Nolan Ross

The tradition thus draws on the celebration of Epiphany common to New Orleans and France. It is celebrated here from January Ash Wednesday. ~ Darryl Thomas

The traditions of France and the Galette des Rois were transported to the southern United States, namely Louisiana, by Basque colonists in the early 1700s. Though these settlers originally baked Galette des Rois in celebration of Epiphany, the tradition morphed into the king cake and Carnival standard we are familiar with today (“King Cake”). Carnival, or Mardi Gras, is closely related to Epiphany, the timing of which is linked to Catholic observances. Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday”, is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday. During Mardi Gras, celebrants gorge themselves and celebrate excess before the onset of the fasting season (“Mardi Gras”). King Cake, retaining the ringed crown shape characteristic of the Galette des Rois, is eaten beginning on Epiphany on January 6. Similar to the bean inserted in the Galette des Rois, a miniature plastic baby is baked into a King Cake, the search for which parallels the Three Kings’ search for baby Jesus. Adhering to the same traditions associated with the Galette des Rois’ bean, whoever finds the baby is granted good luck and “royal” status.. ~ Avery Anderson

Originally, King Cakes were prepared primarily for the Epiphany feast held on January 6th. Due to adaptation of the original tradition by various cultures, however, this pastry’s “season” of popularity has been extended to include any length of time between Christmas and the start of Lent (as is the case in New Orleans). American king cake, greatly associated with the Mardi Gras festivities of New Orleans, is a further variation on the Gâteau form of pastry made from braided cinnamon flavoured dough and a cream cheese or fruit filling. ~ Hannah Keohane

Differing from French King Cakes, New Orleans King Cakes usually have icing and the colors Purple, Green, and Gold incorporated into the cake. Each color represents its rich history. Purple represents Justice, Green represents Faith, and Gold represents Power. ~ Megan McDonnell