King Cake History and Recipe

King Cake History and Recipe!

Friends of ours brought us this King Cake {also sometimes referred to as a King’s Cake, Kings’ Cake, or Three Kings’ Cake} along with some delicious chicken pie to help us out while we’re surviving our first few weeks with a newborn.  {If you want to see my super cute son you can here.  I think he’s adorable!  I know I’m biased but that’s allowed, right?}  This yummy treat started a discussion today with my blogging friends who had never heard of King Cake or the history behind it.  In case some of you are unfamiliar with the story I want to tell you about it.  Well, not in my words exactly but the following is from the info sheet our friends gave us with the King Cake.  {I’m not sure who’s the author of this info so if you know please share it with me.}

One of the many attractive customs surrounding the Christmas Season is the King’s Cake.  It has grown in popularity along with Christmas Carols, Christmas Trees, and Lights.  While these decorations are meant to be seen and admired, the Cake is a gift to be shared by family and friends at mealtime or during a party on or after “Little Christmas,” an expression used for the feast of Epiphany, observed for centuries on January 6.

In the Middle Ages, popular devotion during Christmastide turned to the Magi or Wise Men or Kings who had followed a star and paid homage to the baby Jesus.  By the twelfth century, veneration of the Magi or Kings themselves spread all over Europe.  In time, Epiphany (from the Greek work meaning ‘manifestation’ in most countries, became the feast of The Holy Kings.  The Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) do not mention the number of the Magi.  In the western church a slowly spreading legend put their number at three.  Perhaps this limitation was based on the three gifts mentioned in the Gospels: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Another reason may have been the early concept that the Magi represented all humanity in its three main races.  All through the Middle Ages Epiphany was the final day of the Christmas celebration.  It came to be known as the “Twelfth Night.”  Pageants included men riding horseback representing the Three Kings, crowned and richly clad, bearing cups filled with myrrh, incense, and the precious metal gold.  They rode through the streets of a city to the main church or cathedral where they offered their gifts.

In Hispanic, Italian, and other Mediterranean countries, January 6 is the day for giving presents to children.  In Rome, the “Lady Befana” (derived from the word Epiphany) distributes gifts among the little ones.  In Spain and South America gift giving is done not only at Christmas but also by the Magi.  During the night of January 6, small presents are placed in the children’s shoes by the Three Wise Men.

Connected with all of these customs is the King’s Cake.  Baked on the eve of January 6, it is prepared in honor of the Magi.  For long it was eaten on the afternoon of the Epiphany in connection with either the main meal or party for family, friends, and neighbors.

A feature of the King’s Cake is placing a coin in the dough before baking.  The person who has the piece with the coin is declared “king.”  More recently, the cake sometimes has had in it both a bean and a pea, making the respective finders “king” and “queen” of the party.  It is not unusual for bakers to put a plastic infant instead of a bean, pea, or even a pecan.

In medieval France, the coin finder was expected to make a donation to a worthy cause, usually the education of a youngster who otherwise might have been deprived of schooling.

In the New Orleans area, the King’s Cake is prepared and eaten during the Epiphany season, which according to liturgy of former times, extended from January 6 to the third Sunday before Mardi Gras or, more accurately, Ash Wednesday.  Nowadays, with the season of Epiphany no longer observed (although the feast is still prominent on the church calendar), the King’s Cakes are nevertheless prepared and consumed all the way to Mardi Gras.

And who knows but that Mardi Gras is nothing else but a throw back to the Epiphany pageantry of the medieval times, besides being a last “fling” before the penitential season of Lent and the King’s Cake as a delicacy, is an appetizing introduction to the carnival activities!

Isn’t that interesting?  It wasn’t until my husband and I met {around the time of Epiphany} that I learned about all of this.  Mike is great at trivia, he’s always teaching me something new!

This King’s Cake was made with individual cinnamon rolls instead of one large circle like the traditional cake.  Fun fact: “The cakes were made circular to portray the circular route used by the kings to get to the Christ Child, which was taken to confuse King Herod who was trying to follow the wise men so he could kill the Christ Child” {according to}.

For a great recipe try Emeril’s King Cake recipe.  If this is the first time you’ve made a King’s Cake I’ll warn you that, from my experience, they’re a bit dry if you don’t include a filling.  Still yummy but a little dry.  You could fill them with cream, fruit, or a combination of both.

Has your family ever celebrated with a King’s Cake?