Although it is now mostly associated with Mardi Gras, the king cake tradition actually started as a celebration of 12th Night (otherwise known as Three Kings Day, the last day of Christmas, or the epiphany). A small trinket was baked into the cake, and whoever got the piece with that trinket in it was bestowed with good luck in the coming year. Somewhere along the line, a tradition of a weekly party between 12th night and Mardi Gras was started, and the person who got the trinket was to bring the cake to the next party. I apologize for the lack of focus in this shot, but since we’ve already eaten it, I can’t retake it.
The trinket is now almost always a baby, which many stores no longer bake into the cake for fear of someone choking on it. The bakeries that do still bake it into the cake will usually put a warning on the package; the ones that don’t usually put the baby where it can easily be seen. Since I couldn’t see this one, and the package didn’t have a warning, I asked. I was assured that the baby was “hidden” in this cake, but the lady who told me that didn’t have the best English skills. It turned out to be hidden under the beads, not in the cake.
The babies are generally flesh colored, not iridescent purple like this one.
King cake is frosted with gold, green and purple, which signify power, faith and justice. The cake itself is not at all what we think of as cake, but more like a cinnamon bread. There are other flavors that you can get it in, including fruit flavors and chocolate, but cinnamon is the most common. If you have a bakery near you that sells them, go out and get one, then gather your favorite people around you to share it.