King cakes—the sweet, colorful, brioche-style pastries synonymous with Mardi Gras—can come in many varieties. There are Apple and Goat Cheese King Cakes, Bananas Foster King Cakes, and even Elvis “The King” Cakes.
But if you want to honor the true Mardi Gras tradition, there are some guidelines. An authentic Louisiana king cake consists of braided dough, shaped into a circle; filled with cinnamon or chocolate; covered in icing; and topped with purple, green, and gold sprinkles. And be careful when you bite into it—there’s a trinket hidden inside!
Even when you stick to these delicious parameters, there’s plenty of room for creativity, and local New Orleans bakeries have the goods to prove it. Check out how these these Louisiana institutions tackle the king cake, and get in the New Orleans spirit for today’s Mardi Gras celebrations.
1. Laurel Street Bakery
Laurel Street Bakery in Central City New Orleans takes “doing it the old-fashioned way” very seriously, making all the ingredients for its king cake from scratch, including the tri-colored sugar sprinkled on top.
2. Dong Phuong Bakery
In the Vietnamese community of eastern New Orleans is Dong Phuong Bakery, whose traditional-style king cake has a lighter, flakier taste and a uniquely braided design from “double-twisting” the bread.
3. Gambino’s Bakery
Known as the “King of King Cakes,” Gambino’s Bakery makes their masterpiece by hand, daily. Their secret-recipe Danish dough is infused with cinnamon swirls throughout.
4. Haydel’s Bakery
Family-run Haydel’s Bakery has been making goodies for New Orleans since the 1950s. Here’s one of their king cakes with a collectable figurine based on Mardi Gras Bacchus floats. How good is it? It won the People’s Choice Award at last year’s Ochsner’s King Cake Festival.
5. La Louisiane Bakery
Tucked in the New Orleans suburbs, La Louisiane makes what they call “The Old Fashioned,” a super-light, pared-down king cake, dusted with a generous amount of festively colored sugar. As you can see, the tiny plastic baby—customarily hidden inside the cake—is diving head-first to get at this goodness.
6. Cochon Butcher
(Image: Cochon Butcher)
Yes, a Louisiana butcher shop is actually behind this particular cake. Cochon Butcher shows its baking chops with the traditional cake seen above (as well as an “Elvis King Cake,” which includes bananas, peanut butter, marshmallows, and bacon). And because they usually deal more with pork than pastries, Cochon skips the plastic baby in favor of a miniature piglet.
7. O’Deliche French Bakery
This thinly braided king cake filled with copious amounts of red cinnamon is, like everything else from O’Delice French Bakery in the Audubon section of New Orleans, made entirely in-house and from scratch. As one local newspaper editor put it, “It makes me understand why people love traditional cinnamon king cake. It’s perfect. It made me a believer.”
8. Swiss Confectionery
Swiss Confectionery on St. Charles Avenue has been around for more than 90 years, so they definitely know what makes a great cake. That’s why they make just one style of king cake in just one size. Its bread is extra tender, marbled with cinnamon, dusted with fine granulated sugar, and topped with butter white icing.
In the mood for something sweet yet? If you can’t get to Louisiana, find your nearest king-cake-making bakery and celebrate Mardi Gras right!