Growing up, anyone in my family would argue with Andy Williams that “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” doesn’t come in late December. No, instead, it’s a few weeks later after the start of the next new year. Mardi Gras was when generations of our family would gather together, plan spots for parades, pick out the best King Cake flavors in town and celebrate the special time of the year that only a handful of people across the country get to take advantage of. It’s when life would slow down for a few weeks, and every aunt, uncle and cousin was under one roof at Grandma’s house. It’s special to me, and always has been.
Thinking back on my childhood, I can remember so many parts of Mardi Gras. The sights of the floats coming down the street, feeling the cold night air waiting on the parades to start, the sound of marching bands playing a second line, and of course, the unforgettable taste of a dessert meant for royalty.
I love King Cake. It’s the ultimate comfort food, and a yearly reminder that our culture is special. When the rest of the world starts to diet and exercise with the start of a new year, Louisiana doubles down on the carbs, sugars and comfort with King Cake season. Don’t worry. Your keto/paleo/Whole30 phase can wait until Lent.
But still, some iterations of this delectable dessert are superior to others. While every slice of king cake is delicious in its own right, my heart pumps a little bit harder for certain flavors. Then again, maybe that’s not a great sign of heart health? Who am I to judge?
But in this instance, I will judge. Below is the (un)official list of which cake is actually king. Your opinion may differ, but don’t worry – I’m looking forward to hearing what you think. And rest assured I’m prepared to defend my list like a rare doubloon on the ground at a parade.
First, the ground rules: these are King Cake flavors, not specific variations from specific bakeries. More importantly, for any flavor to be considered, they must be traditional flavors available at multiple bakeries in the Ark-La-Tex. Lastly, even though the “Boudin King Cake” is a strangely genius concoction, I won’t be considering savory cakes in this list. For a list of unique King Cakes in Louisiana, check out this post.
Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for – here are the King Cake flavors: officially ranked.
7. Pralines and Cream
Like pickle flavored ice cream, this is the perfect example of how two great things may not mix. Pralines are a southern staple, but in King Cake form, they take on a combative flavor that doesn’t mix with a King Cake’s cinnamon sweet dough. Plus, with hard sugar on top, there are already a lot of textures involved, making the crunchy praline pieces borderline unpleasant. King Cake is high in carbs, sugars and fats. Take part in yours with a version better than this.
Of all the fruit flavorings, apple is by far the least desirable. There is a reason that when you go to pick up a king cake at a grocery store, too many times, the only flavor available is apple. Baked apples are delicious in an apple pie, but not in a king cake. (On a side note: Do people even like apple-flavored spreads? If a restaurant asks me, “is apple jelly is ok?” I think you know the answer. It is not.)
Chocolate is by far the most divisive King Cake flavor because it is its own dessert. Most of the time, a chocolate king cake takes on its own form, abandoning the cinnamon sugar base for something new. Even though it can be tasty, for these reasons it ranks slightly below .500 here.
Now we’re getting somewhere. As far as fruit flavorings go, blueberry is a mild one, that compliments the cake’s cinnamon sugar base, rather than competes with it. A blueberry king cake can be delicious, but it’s not the best fruit flavor.
3. Cream Cheese
To some, this is the ultimate King Cake. I’ll admit it can be, but it is totally dependent on one thing – ratio. Too many cream cheese flavored king cakes are absolutely dripping with filling, to the point where the cake is a disgusting, overly sweetened mess. If the ratio of cake to filling is on point, this flavor combination is iconic, but it’s a risky order.
This is the ultimate fruit-flavored King Cake. Strawberries are tart and slightly acidic, giving an extra flavor to cut through the sweet dough of a King Cake. It compliments the cake’s natural flavors in a way that’s superior to other fruit. Rumor has it, strawberry King Cake inspired John Lennon to write “Strawberry Fields Forever.” OK, I invented that rumor just now. Even still, there can only be one champion, and this isn’t it.
Without question, the ultimate flavor of King Cake is simply the cinnamon sweet dough cake itself. A pure King Cake is what I dream about, starting in November when turkeys are being carved up. It’s not overly sweet and, if prepared correctly, is moist enough to not need a cream cheese or fruit-flavored filling. Simply put, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
That’s it, King Cake flavors: officially ranked. What did I get wrong? What’s your favorite flavor of King Cake? Let me know in the poll below. No matter what, just like pizza, even a “bad slice” is still pretty good. Now, time to grab a slice of King Cake, sip on some coffee, check out some King Cake flavored ice cream and enjoy the rest of Carnival season. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
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