While most Americans might look forward to Valentine’s Day as soon as the New Year’s festivities are finished, Louisianan’s are often found anticipating the Mardi Gras season alongside its promise of king cake, and according to a recent feature by Houma Today, 2021 is no different.
As Louisiana history goes, Mardi Gras festivities have only grown in size, popularity, and community acclaim over the past few decades, though due to the current climate of social distancing and pandemic precautions, many in the state are left wondering what a 2021 Mardi Gras season will look like.
In the New Orleans area, as well as most other cities across the state, Mardi Gras parades have been canceled in light of the criticism received from last year’s celebrations in New Orleans. 2020 parades contributed to a drastic increase in coronavirus cases in the state. However, as many New Orleans area bakeries are realizing: people will still want to eat king cakes despite not having festive parades or elegant costume balls to attend.
One such baker is Will Samuels who has been running the King Cake Hub, a seasonal shop that offers king cakes to 15 New Orleans Bakeries, for the past three years. Samuels reports that sales have been just as good this year with him selling nearly 1,000 king cakes a day, saying, “it’s fantastic. Surpassing the numbers that I expected.”
Once known as a rather simplistic dessert in Louisiana, the classic king cake was merely composed of a brioche ring of cake topped with purple, green, and gold frosting that represent the colors of Carnival. Nowadays bakers, chefs, and consumers from across the south have made variations of the classic confection, such as being filled with cream cheese, stuffed with berries, or packed with praline filling. Though, one constant filling remains among nearly all king cake varieties- in most cases a plastic baby. If a slice of king cake with the baby inside is served to someone, tradition dictates that they must buy “the next king cake”.
Between the start of Carnival on January 6 and Mardi Gras Tuesday, a high percentage of New Orleanian’s daily caloric intake comes from ingesting king cakes. So it’s no wonder that these southerners haven’t let the pandemic quiet their desire for this cake that many start to look forward to as early as Ash Wednesday.
With most offices being closed and countless Mardi Grad balls or parties being canceled in fear of being a potential super-spreader event, most bakeries are noticing most individual or medium-sized king cakes being sold. Baker Chaya Conrad, of Bywater Bakery, was initially prepared for a less-than-ideal king cake season, fearing that her business would be in trouble without that annual sales boost, however this season has been steady thus far, and it’s only the beginning.
Conrad reported, “it’s madness. It’s through the roof,” she said. “Thank God for king cake season,” and for the first time in her bakery’s history she is shipping her king cakes. On a recent Monday, she shipped out 200 cakes and sold over 300 from the physical store itself, which is quite comparable to last year’s 250-300 daily cake average. Conrad said, “people can’t travel to New Orleans. This is the one thing people can do for carnival.”
In addition to the Mardi Gras season, local bakeries had seen additional orders stemming from the New Orleans’ Saints playoff run earlier in 2021. Ryan Haydel’s third generation Haydel’s Bakery reportedly sees a 25% sales increase following every Saints victory, and in a year marked by uncertainty and surprises, the constant that is the New Orleans king cake is a welcome 2021 treat.
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