For the uninitiated, January 6 is Epiphany, or King’s Day, in the Catholic Church. This is the day the three wise men (the magi) showed up in Bethlehem bearing their gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. In New Orleans, it kicks off the famous Carnival season that leads up to Mardi Gras—the last day before Lent—which this year falls on February 12.
In Louisiana the time between Epiphany and Mardi Gras day is celebrated with a round cake covered with green, purple, and gold sugars. Sometimes the cake is made with cinnamon, and sometimes it’s stuffed with various fillings like cream cheese, fruit, or praline. It always comes with a small plastic baby inside. If you receive the piece with the baby, it supposedly means you have good luck for the day. (It really means you have to buy the next king cake!)
Meanwhile, in Northern France, Epiphany is celebrated throughout January with a cake
known as the
galette des rois (which, yes, translates into “cake of the king”). This cake is generally flaky and
almond-flavored and contains a small porcelain baby or a bean. Whichever type you
prefer, there are plenty of places to pick one up in Washington. Be sure to call ahead
to confirm availability.
New Orleans-style King Cakes
David Guas grew up in New Orleans East and the NOLA neighborhood Lakeview, so he knows his way around a king cake. His Arlington bakery will have 14-inch, cream-cheese-stuffed king cakes for $39.95 until Mardi Gras day, though you need to order two days in advance.
Best Buns—also in Arlington—can make king cakes on any weekend but will stock the store with them for Super Bowl Sunday (fittingly held in New Orleans this year) and a week later for Mardi Gras. It’s $14.25 for a ten-inch braided cake made from brioche dough with an almond paste and topped with a royal sugar icing.
Heidelberg offers a slightly more manageable king cake, both in terms of the stomach and the wallet. The confections are eight inches and cost $8.95; make sure you order 24 hours in advance.
The Dallas-based French chain offers eight-inch king cakes through Mardi Gras day.
Those are $16.99.
Galettes des Rois
This family-owned French bakery in Columbia Heights follows the traditions of Northern
France and Belgium by serving up
galettes des rois throughout January. They come in three sizes—an individual serving, a cake for six,
and a cake for eight. Those cost $3.99, $22.99, and $29.99, respectively. And keeping
with tradition, each one comes garnished with a paper crown. Call ahead.
The Bethesda bakery serves up both New Orleans- and French-style cakes this year. Galettes des rois are available through January, and the king cakes pick up where they leave off. Both cakes are nine-inchers and cost $32 and $26, respectively.
The Georgetown bakery is stepping up its game this year to offer both types of cakes. Like Praline Bakery and Bistro, it’ll serve galette des rois until the end of January, then switch over to pecan king cakes. The galette comes in small, medium, and large, for $19.50, $29.50, and $37.50, respectively.