Traditional king cake popular year-round
Get those umbrellas and beads ready: Mardi Gras is nearly over, Fat Tuesday is almost here and local bakeries are offering up a taste of the Big Easy.
The king cake, a round pastry topped with icing and green, gold and purple sprinkles, is traditionally consumed on Fat Tuesday, the last day of Mardis Gras and the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent.
Bakers typically shove a tiny plastic baby into the cake, representing the baby Jesus, which is said to bring good luck to whoever finds it.
Matt Crawford, the baker at Frutcake (sic) on Charleston's East End, said king cakes have become a tradition for many of his bakery's customers.
"It's definitely something people come in and ask about," he said.
Frutcake makes three varieties of the cakes - cream cheese, cherries and cream cheese and apple - and each include a plastic baby in traditional Mardi Gras colors.
Crawford will being making the cakes on Friday, and said anyone wanting to reserve one should call by at least Monday. They cost $24 each.
Spring Hill Bakery started making king cakes a few years ago after a competitor, Dutchess Bakery, closed down. Customers began asking Spring Hill owner Robin Williams to try his hand at the Fat Tuesday delicacy.
"It was more popular than I thought," he said. "We ended up selling about 175 or 80 that week."
Williams said the dish remains popular among customers, even though Spring Hill only keeps a few king cakes in its display case. He said die-hard fans call ahead and reserve a cake. The bakery already has received orders from people wanting four and five cakes apiece.
Customers need to call by Saturday to order a king cake at Spring Hill, as the bakery is closed on Sunday and Monday. They cost $18 apiece.
But even if you miss Fat Tuesday, Williams said Spring Hill will gladly whip up a king cake any time of the year.
"People order them all year long," he said. "None of the ingredients are special. If you want one in December, I can make them for you."
Spring Hill uses its donut recipe for king cakes, although Williams mixes cinnamon into the batter.
"It's like a big cinnamon roll."
The River and Rail Bakery in Huntington plans to make its first king cakes this year. Owner Kim Baker said she noticed several people asking on Facebook about the cakes.
"Apparently no one else in this area, that we know of, makes them," she said. "I think it's going to be a very popular thing," said owner Kim Baker."
The bakery has only had a few orders so far, but is prepared to make 100 king cakes for Fat Tuesday.
Baker said her king cake is closer to a yeasted sweet bread, not quite as sweet as an actual cake. It's filled with cream cheese, cinnamon, lemon zest and pecans.
She said she might braid the dough, as some New Orleans bakeries do, but hasn't decided yet.
River and Rail also is offering customers a choice between a plastic baby or the more traditional king cake surprise, a dried fava bean.
"We're asking everyone who places an order to include phone number and preference of a plastic baby and a fava bean," she said.
Baker said orders for the cakes must be submitted by Friday at 4 p.m., and the cakes will be available between noon and 4 p.m. on Tuesday. They are $30 apiece.