Mardi Gras: It’s all about the King Cake

It\'s not Mardi Gras without a King Cake. A local chef explains its significance. (Courtesy Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery)

WASHINGTON — For traditionalists, Mardi Gras is not Mardi Gras without King Cake — a wreath-shaped sweet bread, decorated with green, purple and gold sugar.

And with the Carnival season wrapping up (it runs from Jan.6 to Fat Tuesday, which this year is March 4), it’s time to savor the last bit of Mardi Gras with the festive cake.

WTOP chatted with Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va., about the significance of King Cake and how he makes this annual treat.

How do you make your King Cakes? Walk me through some of the main ingredients.

King Cakes are more of a sweet bread than a cake, laced with cinnamon. First, we bake it in the traditional oval shape. The main ingredients include yeast, eggs, butter, flour, milk, sugar and cinnamon. After that, it’s all about decorating with icing and purple, green and gold-colored sugar — symbolizing justice, faith and power.

Your King Cake was named one of the top five King Cakes in the country by The Washington Post. What is it about yours that makes it so good?

The secret to my King Cake is that it’s handcrafted with natural, locally- sourced ingredients. It’s a flaky, French-style cake filled with my special Creole Cream Cheese, which gives it a signature twist.

How many do you make on average during the season?

Let’s just say, last year we ordered more than a mile of Mardi Gras beads in purple, green and gold for the King Cakes!

And I guess you go through that many plastic babies, as well? What’s the significance of the baby?

It’s not a King Cake without the baby! The baby signifies Twelfth Night, a celebration of the visit of the Three Wise Men to the infant Jesus, 12 days after his birth. The lucky recipient who finds the hidden baby has to get the next King Cake or host a party.

Let’s talk about the Block Party at Bayou Bakery: King Cake will be there, but what else can party go-ers expect?

If you can’t be in Crescent City, our third annual Bayou Gras Block Party is the place to be as your New Orleans Carnival Headquarters in the D.C. area. The festivities are spillin’ out onto the street right outside of our front door, under our huge, heated party tent — a whole block long — from 5 to 10 p.m.

Bayou Gras revelers can expect a whole night of authentic parade route fare, complimentary Rappahannock River Oysters being shucked by the Croxton cousins, Bourbon Street-style sips, Abita beer flowing from our five-tap beer truck, crazy Carnival getups and beads flyin’.

Our decked out Boogie Float IV will be rollin’ in the 16th annual Clarendon- Courthouse Mardi Gras Parade just down the street — it’s the largest Mardi Gras celebration in the entire D.C. metro area. It’s going to be an epic N’awlins-style celebration — and fun for the entire family.This year, kids 12 and under eat free.

For information on the Bayou Bakery Block Party, visit the Bayou Bakery website for more information on tickets, times and details.

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