The King of Cakes

January 2015
By: Kathryn Meir, Robb Vices

The winter holidays are now behind us, which, in New Orleans and many other parts of the country, means one thing: It’s the start of king cake season. The gaudily colored cakes are ubiquitous at this time of year; we’re told three-quarters of a million are consumed in New Orleans alone during Carnival season. For the uninitiated, in their most basic form the cakes are not unlike a ring-shaped cinnamon roll, with a baby figurine hidden inside that confers luck and certain responsibilities to the person who gets the baby in their slice.

But we've found that in theory, the cakes are a charming tradition; in practice, frankly, they’re often not that exciting to eat. Which is why we’re so psyched about the variation now available at Willa Jean. This bakery and restaurant, part of chef John Besh’s restaurant group, is only a few months old, so this is its first season serving the cake; a similar one was previously offered at Domenica, another Besh restaurant. Willa Jean’s version is a decadent and delectable take on the original: filled with bananas, salted caramel sauce, and mascarpone cheese, and topped with a praline glaze and sprinkled with gold leaf—it’s so much more than simply an edible place to hide a doll.

If you’re in the New Orleans area, they take online orders for in-person pickup. If there’s no chance of you getting to New Orleans during king cake season (which runs through February 9 this year)… well, you know us—we wouldn’t leave you hanging. Here’s the recipe. (Don’t forget the baby figurine to hide in it, if you wish.)