When ordering a King Cake, Crescent City sweet seekers can no longer uniformly expect the standard braided cinammon twist with more or less the same flavor profile. King Cakes have become a creative canvass for adventurous bakers across New Orleans. Allow NoDef to help you choose which will satisfy your palette. We combined three years of King Cake coverage for one ultimate guide. After reading these diverse offerings, you may even want the baby:
A New Orleans staple for 49 years, Gambino’s (4821 Veterans Blvd., Metairie) proudly proclaims to be “King of King Cakes,” pointing to their experience, fresh ingredients, and made-from-scratch recipes to support the worthiness of this grand title. Walking into Gambino’s on a gray day, the cheerful and bright décor along with the sight of cupcakes, cakes, bars, and cookies lining the glass cabinet, makes the dismal weather outside seem a world away.
Owner Sam Scelfo explains what sets Gambino’s king cakes apart from others. The first reason, he says, is Gambino’s use of Danish sweet dough that is made from scratch everyday, beginning at midnight, by bakers who have been working at Gambino’s for 25-40 years. While most bakers fill the king cakes by placing fillings on top after the cakes are cooked to save on cost, Gambino’s refuses to scrimp on taste to save money, instead filling the inside of the King Cake before it is baked.
The twists of Gambion’s traditional king cake were very thick, much thicker than other king cakes, which was a plus, as was the generous portions of cinnamon and sugar layered between the twists. An abundance of cinnamon in the mix added intensity in flavor that paired nicely with the sweet fondant icing and granulated sugar on top of the cake. Even without a filling to assist it, the traditional cake was not at all dry, but rather very moist.
“I’m from Louisiana, so I’m partial to Gambino’s,” said one taster.
Cake Café (2440 Chartres St., Marigny) was the clear crowd favorite at NoDef’s recent King Cake Quest at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The familiarity of traditional King Cake dough is complemented with apple pie chunks. And, the goat cheese wildcard makes this a cohesive Mardi Gras mashup. The goat cheese…let’s take a moment to savor the goat cheese…wrapped in a dense bread and moist cinnamon filling, all culminate in a finely balanced hunk of goodness.
For a cake that looks like Beetlejuice’s take on a Mardi Gras costume, this clownish appearance has quite the sophisticated flavor. Purple, green, and gold stripes of thick frosting are generously applied. Upon tasting the artisanal awesomeness that is the innards, one realizes that this fun decoration is paired with some serious taste.
“It’s almost like a fruit tart,” said one man going back for seconds. “Goat cheese and apple, that’s hard to beat,” said one seasoned taster.
Pure Cake (5035 Freret) offers two tasty alternatives to your average cinnamon roll. They fill one cake with caramel and the other with a mouth-watering mix of caramel and cream cheese. Since Pure only opened last year after Mardi Gras, this year marks their first king cake making attempt. Official king cake production starts Saturday, just in time for the weekend, but will be limited to ten per day, certain to go quickly. For those looking to feed an entire household plus a few, Pure Cake king cake serves 12 to 14 people. Gotta soak up that alcohol somehow.
“The cream cheese icing really makes it moist,” said a taster.
Famed Metairie King Cake spot Haydel’s (4037 Jefferson Hwy., Old Jefferson) wasn’t in the top three, but they weren’t far behind.
A New Orleans fixture for over 52 years and the holder of the Guiness record for world’s largest King Cake, there is no denying that Haydel’s Bakery knows its way around the ringed dessertPackaged in a plastic wrapping detailing the nutritious information (which was, of course, ignored), I quickly realized why the cream cheese King Cake is the most popular option. The standard doughnut-shaped cake has a base layer of twisted cinnamon-sugar dough that has neither too much cinnamon nor too much sugar.
Topping the dough is a heavenly, thick ribbon of cream cheese, which adds moisture to the cake and balances the sweetness of the fondant icing and the granulated sugar, sprinkled around the cake in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, yellow, and green. The combination of the silky-smooth cream cheese, the soft cinnamon-sugar twists, and the granulated sugar squares creates a delightful texture that makes it hard to stop after a slice, or two…
“My family always gets Haydel’s,” said a teenaged taster.
While the chocolate king cake from Bittersweet Confections (725 Magazine St., Warehouse District) did not make it to the top, that’s no fault of its taste. The first round of people cleared the solo cake before the rest of the crowd even got a chance. “The chocolate was excellent,” said one taste tester. “That was my favorite,” said another. The chocolate was rich without being overpowering, and many compared the taste of the cake to a chocolate croissant.
Bittersweet’s Cake was a favorite among NoDef’s tasters. Owner Cheryl Scripter is a Louisiana native, and she loves to use locally produced products when she makes her confections.
The French King Cake at La Boulangerie (4526 Magazine St.) has puff pastry layers with a denser center of frangipane, which must be French for heaven. Well, that’s what we thought it meant, until we learned it actually means that delicious layer of almond paste.
Chef and owner Dominique Rizzo has been baking the offering for a decade. La Boulangerie’s French King Cake is quite different from your typical New Orleans-style King Cake. Lacking the Mardis Gras colors and chaotic sugar decorations, La Boulangerie’s French King Cake has a simpler look. The consistency among their beautifully browned and lightly glazed French cakes proves some serious baking. The puffy part of the cake is pleasantly lighter than other King Cakes’ denser, doughier brioche/challah-like breadiness. And at the center of it all is the golden creaminess of the almond paste that keeps the rest of the flakey pastry together. One bite and eyes are guaranteed to roll heavenward. Full review here.
Maple Street Patisserie (7638 Maple St., Uptown) employs a Jackson Pollock-esq splatter of Mardi Gras colors. “The filling is just right,” said one observer, commenting on Maple Street’s cream cheese cake. Maple Street also put out their classic cinnamon. We didn’t overhear anyone talk about the cinnamon filling, perhaps due to the persistent chomping.
There’s french-style King Cakes, and New Orleans-style King Cakes. Flavors of the New Orleans vein are traditional cinnamon, cream cheese, apple, praline, lemon, raspberry, and any combo of the above that the customer desires. All of the King Cakes are hand-made from scratch, multiple times a day. The sugar topping is not overdone, as is all-too-often the case. Cichowski’s French King Cake has a a lot of flaky layers packed in to one very puffy pastry.
Having expertise in all sorts of European styles, owner Ziggy Chichowski’s New Orleans-style King Cake is a marriage of brioche and babka. So NoDef had the plain to single out the dough and truly test this Master’s intentions. Our verdict: he truly knows what he’s doing. We thought when getting the plain we’d just be judging the artist’s palette, but it instead proved to be a gateway to the other filled King Cakes. Full review here.
It should come as no surprise that many people marveled over Sucre’s (3025 Magazine St., Uptown) king cake. The plain flavor cake made by the joint venture of Joel Dondis and Tariq Hanna mixes cream cheese into the dough resulting in moist texture. Of equal importance, they nailed the ratios of sugar and cinnamon. While both tastes are present, neither overpowers. In fact, perfectly blended ingredients – a harmony whereby each bite guarantees a sampling (no pockets of one flavor) – is perhaps Sucre’s strongest feature.
The cake’s most prominent feature is certainly the icing. As mentioned the looks are stunning, flat, pastel Mardi Gras colors with specks of glitter suspended within. The flavor keeps pace, neither too sweet nor too dry, or too generic. The literal icing on the cake, is that the icing is unique, and as good as it looks.
Sucre’s King Cake is delivered in a petite, slender white box cradling an 9-inch braided King Cake, along with some Mardi Gras beads, an informational card, and a shiny gold Baby Jesus. The cake’s lightly iced surface “spray-painted” with the slightest variations of purple & gold and embedded with glitter was just as stunning as the packaging.
Need proof beyond our firewalls that it’s good? This one comes with the approval of NFL stars Mark Ingram and Patrick Peterson.
Adrian’s Bakery and Ice Cream (4710 Paris Ave, 2016 O.C. Haley) offers a more traditional, fluffier cake. A few people in the crowd said they preferred less chewy festive fare. “It’s a little too fluffy for me, I prefer less bread,” one critic commented. However, some in the crowd appreciated the classic feel of the confection. “I love Adrian’s,” said one taster. “They’re still my favorite.”
Adrian’s has been in business for seven years, and king cake is just the beginning. They also do cakes for occasions from weddings, to baby showers, to birthday parties.
Paul’s Pastry has been making delicious King Cakes in Picayune, Miss., since the early 1970’s. Paul’s is a family owned operation. Currently, Sherri Paul Thigpen is carrying on the family tradition of producing delicious stuffed King Cakes. Paul Thigpen considers it an honor to be a part of the King Cake baking family. “We think there is enough of a market for all of us,” she said. “We just want everyone to do well and most importantly make great King Cakes.”
If the Berry Deluxe King Cake is a representative sample, it’s what inside that sets Paul’s cakes apart, The cake comes iced and sprinkled with Mardi Gras-colored sugar and sliced almonds. On the inside, customers have the option of ordering up blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry fillings. The fruity fillings work wonderfully with the unique sweet bread cake that Paul’s has chosen over the more traditional Danish pastry. The Sweetbread Cake is an interesting and delicious choice because of the moist, bread-like texture of the cake as opposed to the traditional layered texture of a Danish based King Cake. The cake was moist, and the filling to cake ratio was perfect. In the most telling sign of its success, the cake disappeared before it could be photographed.
Other popular flavors at Paul’s include the Pecan Praline King Cake, Mississippi Mud King Cake, and Chocolate Bavarian King Cake, and many others. You can also create your own flavor combinations if you can’t find the exact King Cake you’ve been looking for. They can be found at 40 different locations in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Full review here.
The vegan and gluten free cake from The Peacebaker (6601 Veterans Memorial Blvd, Metairie) gave us a chance to share the King Cake tradition with a Mardi Gras virgin. Most people noticed something different about the cake, but no one’s comments were negative. In fact, some people preferred the softer variety.
“It’s so soft, like a pound cake,” said one taster. “I really like the size of it, and the peace sign on the top,” said another member of the crowd.
The Sweet Life Bakery (6268 Vicksburg St., Lakeview) threw a new flavor into the mix. If you’re a fan of almonds, this is the king cake for you. “I’m staying right here,” laughed one taster. “I love everything almond and vanilla,” she said, staking out her spot. By 6:30, Sweet Life’s cake was devoured, leaving only sugar and crumbs in its wake.
If you like sugar, you’ll love Breaux Mart’s Praline King Cake. The new spin on the classic is thin, easy to cut, and covered in praline on the outside and in the middle.
“It’s too sweet for me,” a taster said, “but the bread is good, it’s easy to eat.” Pralines are essentially pure sugar—not a good option for someone without a saccharine palate. However, a little piece is sure to satisfy a sweet tooth.
As the name implies, Breads on Oak (8640 Oak St., Riverbend) delivered in terms of consistency.
“It just tastes so fresh,” a sweet toothed stroller said. Their cinnamon cake is made with all organic ingredients, and they have a vegan option at their store. This cake is for bread purists—not people looking for a flimsy, sugar-stuffed treat.
Each morning, owner and native New Orleanian Cara Benson, who attended the pastry program at The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, makes King Cakes in the light yellow kitchen at Tartine (7217 Perrier St., Uptown). The cake doesn’t need a hole in the middle—they’re happy to give you a blob of flaky goodness. Although the shape and structured tested NoDef’s plastic-knife-cutting skills, the little cake was a crowd pleaser.
The buttery brioche was flakey, moist, and delicious, complementing the cinnamon-sugar mixture that was folded into the brioche’s thick folds. The sweetness of the royal icing neither overpowered the buttery goodness of the dough nor made the cake difficult to consume. The smoothness of the icing, the softness of the brioche and the crunch of the granulated sugar combined in a pleasing texture.
“It just falls apart in your hands,” a King Cake taster commented. “And the icing is just right.”
Gracious Bakery (1000 S. Jeff Davis Pkwy., Mid-City ) is a favorite among the little kids that got a chance to taste it. “I like the beads on it,” said one junior critic. “And the icing is good,” she said, sheepishly.
Although their cake is a shrunken, less sugar-coated version of the classic, Gracious’ king cake is all New Orleans. Owner Megan Roen Forman is a native and former Pastry Chef of Bayona Restaurant.
Swiss Confectionery (747 St. Charles Ave., Uptown) is another draw for the little ones. Kids gravitated towards the sprinkled, pastel exterior, and grown ups liked the consistency. “That one was easy to chew, not too dry,” said one man in the crowd.
The Warehouse District bakery is a longtime local business. They’ve been open since 1921, and they also make specialty cakes, pastries, wedding cakes, and more.
The one outta-towner was another small cake that went fast. Classic Golden Pecans is a Lafayette-based business, but they tasted local to us.
As the name would lead one to believe, GP’s trademark is a praline filled king cake. It arrived in a decorative tin, and featured a kit with the requisite accessories: beads, baby, informational placard.
The icing was nearly perfect – complimenting the cake itself, without overpowering. The complexity was like a wine: a slightly sweet sucre with hints of vanilla, and crisp finish. The cake was moist. It seemed dense to the touch, but not to the tongue. Golden Pecans managed to avoid many of their competitors pitfalls; no yeast explosion or Betty Crocker King Cake here.
“I dropped like four toothpicks in that one,” said one hungry gentlemen. “The icing is just like—I really like that one.” We didn’t spill the beans about the bakery’s non-504 area code.
In past years, nutella has replaced peanut butter as everyone’s favorite snack to eat straight out of the container. One baker from La Dolce Nola (200 Metairie Road, Metairie) is riding the hazelnut wave, and the crowds appreciated it. “I love the one with the nutella in it,” said one woman, emphatically. “I like how it wasn’t too sweet until you get to the filling.” Although the cake’s filling is modern, the structure is traditional—almost like a McKenzie’s cake. Some criticized the cake for being “too bready.”
The Randazzo Original (3515 N. Hullen Street) is a braided, brioche type bread, spiced lightly with cinnamon and smothered in their signature icing. Much like Pavlov’s dog, mouths start salivating as the season starts on King’s Day for these sweet and spiced, icing drenched confections. The moist, flaky layers that make up this cake practically melt in your mouth. Together with the not-too-sweet, citrus-infused powdered sugar based icing, the cake creates an aromatic and unique flavor experience.
Fillings are available to heighten your King Cake experience by adding Cream Cheese, Apple, Lemon, Strawberry, Royal (all four fillings quartered off) or Pecan Praline. While the fillings are not entirely considered ‘traditional’, they are a tasty addition and quite worth the added calories.
Representing the true standard of tradition is the Randazzo’s brand King Cake. As with age-old traditions, new spins are an expected revolution. One store taking that tradition to epic, odd, and somewhat obscene places is Cochon Butcher (930 Tchoupitoulas St.) with their aptly named ‘Elvis’ King Cake.
Inspired by the King’s favorite sandwich, the confection is a hunka-hunka round of dense, yeasty bread stuffed with peanut butter and bananas. Since enough is not enough, the entire cake is covered with an ample dose of Cochon’s homemade marshmallow cream. The egg-based bread is heavier than most king cake recipes, most likely to sustain the incorporation of the interior banana/peanut butter components. On the peanut butter front, if you were maybe expecting a creamy explosion oozing from the cake, you will be a little disappointed.
The peanut butter’s flavor is of the home-crushed, potent variety, surely not Jiffy or Skippy (such inferior products have no business serving the King properly). However, it seems as though the bread absorbs the oil from the peanut butter, leaving behind a nutty paste-like residue to surround the bananas. The bananas, though fresh before baking, have cooked down during the baking process; their texture is firm, slightly dried and chewy, rather than caramelized and mushy. The combined flavors are of course reminiscent of a classic peanut butter and banana sandwich made famous by Elvis Presley himself.
Setting this cake apart even further from the pack is the sticky sweet marshmallow cream. Now, mind you, this isn’t your ordinary Fluff out of the jar or the spongy nugglets spilled across sweet potatoes, this stuff is the real homemade deal. Cochon’s recipe is most certainly made with honey (for all those concerned with corn syrup intake, high five!) and its addition to peanut butter-banana bread is somewhat overwhelming in flavor.
This gooey component may set this cake apart, but tasters remarked how the cake may have been better without. After toasting said mallow top, a generous dose of diced candied bacon sprinkles are finally tossed over the entire affair. Cochon is renowned for their divine swine, and this bacon did not disappoint. The familiar cut was not in strips, but diced into chunks of sweet (think maple bacon) mainly meaty bacon. This King Cake tribute to the King is an innovated and somewhat stunning take on the classic, is truly not for the faint of protein, but could be considered quite satisfying to those looking for a king cake unchained.