A Transplant’s Guide to Louisiana King Cake

Each year, while the rest of the country goes into a post-Christmas frozen-ass depression, Louisiana is partying. From the Epiphany to Lent, it’s Mardi Gras season, complete with parades, really tacky purple, yellow, and gold decorations, and—the best part—delicious king cake! I’ve often said that it took me over 30 years to move to New Orleans, but I’m pretty sure my stomach has always been here. So with the important disclaimer that I’m technically a Yankee, here is my survey of the annual treat.

Rouse’s

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Rouse’s

Rouse’s is a good local grocer and they have a fine standard cake. It’s a dense, cinnamonny cake with sugar sprinkles on icing. The genius part is that the ingredients list NO trans fats, which is rare for these cakes. They probably know that we would eat them very quickly and not need the preservative effects of fake fat. I think our small family destroyed this cake in under 24 hours.

Rating: 4.5 crowns

Randazzo’s

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Randazzo’s

Evidently there was a messy divorce in the King Cake Dynasty of Randazzo’s and the rumor is that this outfit got to keep the name and the other party got to keep the recipe. The other party won in that trade off because Randazzo’s king cake is not good. It’s light and cakey with very subtle cinnamon making room for the slight arsenic flavor which no doubt comes from the radioactive sprinkles. The icing is maybe what you’d expect from a 5-year-old in the kitchen: it tastes pretty much like a dense kid’s birthday cake.

Rating: 2 crowns

Caluda’s

This is the beneficiary of the original Randazzo’s recipe evidently and was clearly the winner in the split. This is a delicious standard cake with full cinnamon flavor and a good ratio of icing to cake (you won’t get diabetes with one bite of this). This is probably what Rouse’s was trying to emulate except Rouse’s did Caluda’s one better by using butter instead of partially-hydrogenated nastiness.

Rating: 4 crowns

Whole Foods

Whole Foods

Sure if you get king cake from Whole Foods, there’s a high probability that it will be coming from Austin, TX, but I moved here from Austin, so I wasn’t scrrd. The king cake is what you would expect from WF: tasty, healthy (as far as cake goes), and expensive. They don’t call it whole paycheck for nothin’! I love the use of butter in the cake instead of trans fats and they limit the icing, which is another plus. The consistency of this “cake” is more like bread, however, and it’s not the ideal version.

Rating: 3.5 crowns

McKenzie’s

McKenzie’s

Not sure why the original McKenzie’s bakery went out of business, but I can guarantee you that it wasn’t because of their king cake recipe because it’s amazing. This is a simple brioche bread roll with colored sugar crystals. That’s it! But it is an amazing gustatory experience. The brioche is light and heavenly and the topping is just sweet enough. If you don’t require all the fancy fillings that the kids are getting into these days, the McKenzie’s cake is quite possibly your best bet. You can find these delicious treats at Tastee’s Donuts locations during Carnival season.

Rating: 5 crowns

Acquistapace’s

Acquistapace’s

This Northshore local grocer may specialize in wine and cheese, but their king cake is excellent. With a braided cinnamon roll, cream cheese icing, and standard yellow, green, and purple sugar crystals, this is traditional and extremely tasty. When you add the popular fillings (they get pretty crazy with cream cheese, apple, lemon, banana/strawberry, and strawberry cream cheese), this is certainly diabetes in a bite. But it may just be worth it. The ingredients are a mystery since they don’t list them, but the taste alone is enough to make it one of your favorites.

Rating: 4.5 crowns

Gambino’s

Gambino’s made into cake balls

We were on empty for a day or two, so we took a chance on a king cake at Target. I know, I know, we were asking for it, but many bakers have popup shops around town and Gambino’s has a good name (I remember them being good last year). Either my memory is shot or something evil happened with Gambino’s. This cake was dry and stale and had about as much flavor as a cardboard box from Amazon.com. We would probably have been better off eating last year’s Gambino’s cake this year than struggling through this disaster. Luckily, I have a creative and optimistic wife who made some king cake balls out of it and they were amazing. And we got a new adage out of it: when life gives you Gambino’s, make cake balls.

Rating: 2 crowns

Haydel’s

Haydel’s

This is another one that people rave about. Luckily, we were able to score one from a popup shop in Metairie. It’s a dense cinnamon roll with ultra-sweet icing and a McKenzie’s style sugar on top of that (Haydel’s actually has a traditional traditional cake without the icing, but we went with this semi-trad version and were happy). They lose points for the trans fats, but other than that, it’s a tasty cake.

Rating: 4 crowns

Fresh Market

Fresh Market

The local take on Whole Foods has some strengths, most notably being their king cake. It’s a pastry-style cinnamon roll with a (un)healthy layer of frosting and all the bells and whistles of some Mardi Gras beads, a plastic coin, and of course the lil baby Jesus. The one downfall of this delicious cake is–surprisingly for a Whole Foods wannabe–the presence of the ever-fowl trans-fats. Fresh Market, you coulda been a contenda. You coulda been somebody. But now you’re just a partially-hydrogenated bum.

Rating: 4 crowns

Sucre

Sucre

Wondering how such a small cake be worth $22? Well, maybe it’s because there are GOLD FLAKES sprinkled all over this cake that looks like the fashion disaster of a Baby Boomer stuck in the 80s!? Needless to say, this was an inauspicious introduction to the Sucre cake. But, whoa Nelly, are we glad we tried it. The Sucre cake is AMAZING. Produced with the simplest of natural ingredients (except for gold flake evidently), they have produced gustatory magnificence. Granted, they may have a slight advantage in this system because we rated the standard cakes and Sucre’s standard cake has a light whipped cream cheese layer embedded in the dense almost pound cake cake. This one was so amazing that I was compelled to have multiple pieces each time I partook. And their recommendation to heat the cake up was genius. The stuff will melt in your mouth. Easily the best cake we tried this year. And that’s saying a lot.

Rating: 5 crowns