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Like the stories behind Christmas cookies, Halloween candy, Easter eggs, Matzo, and countless other cultural culinary traditions, the King Cake's winding tale emerges from deep in the past, branching and fusing with varied groups and regions on its way to us in the here and now. Today in North America, consumption of the King Cake is most closely associated with the city of New Orleans and its Carnival season of celebrations leading up to Mardi Gras, arguably one of the greatest annual parties on the continent.
When the King Cake makes its appearance, beginning most abundantly in January on the 12th day after Christmas, you know that the good times have begun to roll.
We dove deep into the world of King Cake to connect you with the best of the best. Thanks to the modern wonders of e-commerce and shipping logistics, you don't need to be anywhere near the old French Quarter to get your hands on one of these sweet and colorful crowns of dough. You don't even have to wait for the season to come around.
Many bakeries adhere to the traditional boundaries of the season, but several of the most renowned King Cake creators ship their wares all year long. The following list contains year-round producers, seasonal King Cake specialists, and one or two surprises.
Pastry expert John Caluda is the founder and head pastry chef at Caluda’s King Cake. After completing his pastry education at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, he returned to his hometown of New Orleans to build his culinary empire.
Chef Caluda honed his chops at several landmark NOLA establishments before hanging up his own shingle in Metairie, his childhood neighborhood. Called Coffee Cottage, the joint proved to be so popular that Caluda has now outgrown those humble digs, expanding operations to a state-of-the-art, 10,000-square-foot bakery in Harahan, Louisiana. Caluda's King Cakes are beloved by customers and consistently prevail in King Cake Snob's annual tasting competition.
Caluda's ships King Cakes year-round and offers many flavors, both traditional and unique. Caluda's traditional Mardi Gras King Cake sells for about $55, with standard overnight shipping included to the lower 48 United States. Shipping to Alaska and Hawaii may cost more. Bulk ordering is available if you want to send King Cakes to your entire Rolodex.
Gambino's is legendary in New Orleans. As one of the oldest King Cake bakeries in the city, it's been operating since 1949.
King Cake baker to celebrities, Gambino's, name-checks David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey on its list of regular customers. It might surprise you, then, that Gambino's also has the best deal on King Cake that you're likely to find, but only when you shop through Goldbelly.
There, you can get Gambino's Traditional King Cake Kit for about $44 with free shipping. The package includes a cinnamon King Cake with the baby baked inside, a King Cake history brochure, and a Mardi Gras poster. The icing and purple, green, and gold sugar are packed separately, so you can enjoy decorating the King Cake yourself.
Each Gambino's King Cake serves 15 to 18 people. In addition to the traditional cinnamon flavor, Gambino's also deals in praline, strawberry, cream cheese, and flavor combos thereof, available for an extra charge.
Lilah’s is a family-owned, seasonal King Cake Bakery out of Shreveport, Louisiana. Owner and head pastry chef Sopan "TK" Tike, hails from Mumbai, India. Chef Tike perfected his craft at fancy Mumbai hotels, before setting sail in the pastry kitchen of Carnival Cruise Lines. His travels eventually brought him to Cajun Country, where he settled down with his wife Lisa and their baby daughter Lilah, for whom their bakery is named.
Lilah's earns rave reviews year after year from customers who love the flavor, freshness, and service they receive, but Lilah's earned a spot on this list for their outstanding variety. In the world of King Cake, Lilah's menu is unrivaled. You can choose from a total of 20-some flavors, including Apple, Bananas Foster, Bavarian Cream, Tiramisu, Black Forest, Triple Berry, Blueberries and Cream, Cherries and Cream, Zulu, Pralines and Cream, Maple Bacon, and more.
King Cakes cost anywhere from around $20 to over $65, depending on size and flavor, plus shipping. Lilah's is a seasonal bakery. For 2021, Lilah's begins shipping around Halloween and continues until Fat Tuesday.
Many bakeries offer King Cake packages, bundling the pastry with all manner of bric-a-brac for your Mardi Gras-themed gathering. If you want masks and jester dolls with your King Cake, more power to you, but in our opinion, the package from Haydel's is the most straightforward and satisfying combo out there.
Haydel's Da Parish King Cake Package comes with its signature Da Parish King Cake—a braided, cinnamon Danish dough topped with green, gold, and purple sugar, plus, icing, and sprinkles—as well as a King Cake History Scroll, a pack of Mardi Gras beads, and, best of all, a pack of classic NOLA French Market Coffee. Best of all, it's $55, next day shipping included. It's everything you need to finish off your annual Mardi Gras party properly.
Haydel's makes other flavors of King Cake, too, including Cream Cheese, Strawberry Cream Cheese, and Praline Pecan. All the King Cakes provide roughly 30 to 35 one-inch slices. Haydel's ships King Cakes year-round to anywhere UPS delivers. It even ships internationally, but you'll have to call them on the phone to place an international order.
King Cakes have been around for a long time. The tradition began in France hundreds of years ago as part of the feast celebrating the Christian Epiphany. These original King Cakes are a bit different from those associated with Mardi Gras. Rather than an iced, ring-shaped coffee cake, the French King Cake is a round puff pastry filled with sweet almond paste, meant to be served warm.
It's no surprise that the title of Best French King Cake goes to a traditional French Bakery. Pastry Chef Francois Poupart began his career in Paris, but soon decamped to Louisiana, bringing the French country village bakery aesthetic along with him. Cajun country welcomed his thick French accent and the classic pastries he produced. Now, Poupart's bakery delights customers in New Orleans.
Poupart's authentic traditional French King Cake costs about $59, plus shipping. The shop also sells the Mardi Gras version as well for the same price. King Cakes must be shipped overnight, and go out only from Tuesday through Thursday.
It's good to know that innovation is always happening, even within venerable traditions like the King Cake. In 2015, boudinlink.com, a website devoted to a thorough cataloging of the Cajun sausage known as boudin, published a recipe for Boudin King Cake, a braided ring of bread filled with boudin sausage, topped with Cajun cracklins and Steen's pure cane syrup. It was a viral hit, and soon the fellows at boudinlink.com found themselves drowning in requests for Boudin King Cakes.
In order to stay focused on their primary mission, they funneled the demand for their creation to a producer capable of satisfying it: Twin's Burgers and Sweets, owned and operated by identical twin brothers Billy and Denny Guilbeaux. The twins took their signature hamburger bun dough, stuffed it with Cajun Boudin, and substituted bacon bits for the cracklin. A bottle of Steen’s syrup comes in the box for you to drizzle yourself.
Twins Burgers and Sweets sells their Boudin King Cakes in packs of two for about $100, plus shipping via either two-day or next-day air. Each cake is 8 inches in diameter and serves 8 to 10 people. Boudin King Cakes ship only from Monday to Thursday. And, better yet, you can order a traditional King Cake at the same time.
If you're looking for an all-natural, vegan King Cake, then look no further than Breads on Oak. Founded by Sean O'Mahoney and his wife Chamain in 2012, Breads on Oak is an eco-conscious, 100% plant-based bakery and cafe in New Orleans.
After serving a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, Sean trained as a baker at the French Pastry School, where he was inspired to bring old-world bread techniques back to his hometown. His efforts have paid off with rave reviews, press, and accolades.
Breads on Oak produces traditional cinnamon King Cakes, as well as flavored and filled varieties like vegan cream cheese, pecan praline, almond cream, and chocolate tiramisu. Its King Cakes look a little different from most others, and not just because they're vegan. The King Cakes are baked in a stone, hearth oven, and there are no artificial colors in its decorating sugar, opting instead for more muted, naturally-derived pigments. There's no plastic baby, either. In keeping with its natural ethos, Breads on Oak hides a single almond in its King Cakes.
The Traditional Cinnamon King Cake sells for about $50. Filled King Cakes sell for around $58. Each cake contains around 18 to 20 one-inch slices. Like many bakers, Breads On Oak only ships King Cakes seasonally, beginning the first week of January. However, it might start earlier if demand is high, so check the company's website, and call the bakery as the season approaches.
What Are King Cakes?
A king cake is a ring-shaped braid of sweet yeasted dough—often baked with fillings, and topped with icing and colored sugars—that is traditionally eaten in celebration of the Epiphany, a Christian holiday that celebrates the three kings'/magi/wisemen’s visit to baby Jesus.
How Much Do King Cakes Typically Cost?
There’s a wide range, but generally speaking, you can get a king cake shipped to you for around $50.
When Should You Order King Cakes?
King Cake season typically goes from the Epiphany in early January until Ash Wednesday, but many bakeries create king cakes for other holidays—both religious and secular—and some offer king cakes all year long.
Why Is There a Baby in King Cakes?
That’s part of the fun. Many bakeries hide a little plastic baby somewhere in the King Cake. Tradition says that the person who gets the baby is king for the day and is responsible for bringing a king cake to the next party.
Can You Freeze King Cakes for Later?
Check with your bakery, but most likely the answer is yes.
How We Chose the Best King Cake Delivery Services
We sorted through dozens of bakeries, press pieces, and customer reviews to bring you the very best King Cake delivery options available. Caluda's, our pick for best overall, has hundreds of stellar customer reviews posted to its site and is consistently ranked among the best King Cakes by kingcakesnob.com.
Earning the title of best variety, Lilah's offers dozens of customer testimonials, throughout which such sentiments as "best King Cakes in town" and "best King Cake I have ever had" are common.