We all know that Mardi Gras season means the advent of those delicious rounds of braided cinnamon dough called King Cakes, but why is there a baby inside? The cakes originated in medieval France and Spain and were brought to Louisiana by the early French and Spanish settlers. The tradition of serving fancy cakes at the bal du roi (king’s ball) quickly took hold, and in these cakes a bean was always hidden. The person who found that bean was responsible for bringing the cake at the next gathering. The bean soon took on new life and was sometimes a nut, a coin, or even a ring! The finder of the prize got to be king or queen for the day, a somewhat dubious honor that resulted not just in supplying the next cake but hosting the next gathering as well.
It wasn’t until the 1940s when McKenzie’s Bakery owner Donald Entringer bought a surplus of little porcelain dolls from a traveling salesman and hid them in his king cakes. Over time, these were replaced with plastic dolls and soon the Catholic population of New Orleans was claiming that these little dolls were actually baby Jesus, a reminder of the season’s religious connection to King’s Day which celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men after the birth of Jesus. Of course, nowadays those plastic babies are no longer baked into the cakes to avoid creating a choking hazard for those unaware of the custom. New the baby is included in the box with the king cake for customers to hide in the cakes when they serve it to their guests–so keep an eye out for any frosting that looks like it may have had a baby pushed through it unless you want to host the next party!