Carnival season is in full swing, and if you're contemplating indulging in a king cake this year, this guide is for you.
What is king cake?
For many Christians, Jan. 6 is known as Kings Day, Epiphany or Twelfth Night (since it falls 12 days after Christmas). As the story is told, it is on this day that three wise men – or magi – followed a star to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. In New Orleans, this feast day marks not only the end of the Christmas season but also the beginning of Carnival, which lasts through Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).
One of the elements born of Epiphany is the king cake, a sweet, circular pastry, cake, or bread which is baked in the shape of a king’s crown. It’s an annual tradition observed in Latin and European countries around the world, and – in many places – there is also a special prize or gift inside the cake. Whoever finds the trinket in their slice of cake is considered “king” for the day, and it is said that good luck will follow them throughout the year. Incidentally, the “king” is also responsible for providing the king cake for the following year.
In France and Belgium, the galette des rois ("cake of kings") takes the form of a pastry that’s typically filled with a frangipane almond cream (North Shore Boulangerie in Shorewood offers one for pre-order and pick-up through the month of January). In Spain and Latin America, the rosca de reyes is comprised of a ring-shaped sweet dough that’s topped with icing and dried fruit.
In America, Louisiana-style king cakes are a more popular style. They are constructed from a buttery brioche-style dough that’s twisted into an oval shape and decorated with icing and colored sugars. Most sport stripes of green, gold and purple – the traditional colors of Mardi Gras, which signify the blessings of faith, power and justice. Most cakes feature a cinnamon flavor, and some are filled with fruit or cream fillings. The cakes also traditionally included a plastic or porcelain baby baked inside (these days, some bakeries choose to include them alongside the cake to avoid any potential choking hazard).
In New Orleans, the cakes are sold widely, and favorite cakes can be procured from bakeries like Joe Gambino's and Haydel's Bakery. In Milwaukee, however, they’re a bit more difficult to find – but not impossible. In fact, a number of bakeries in the area offer their own Wisconsin twists on the Big Easy staple.
We've done the research for you and assembled this list of places where you can find (and pre-order) the cakes.
1. Aggie’s Bakery
7328 W. Greenfield Ave., (414) 482-1288
King cakes at Aggie’s are made with a tender sweet dough with a choice of three fillings: cinnamon, cream cheese or a combination of both. They are priced $14.95 to $49.95, depending on size, with the smallest cakes feeding 5-8 and the largest accommodating up to 50. The cakes are currently available for pre-order, with pick-up beginning the first week in February and leading up to Fat Tuesday (Feb. 16).
2. Blue's Egg / Black Shoe Bakery
317 N. 76th St., (414) 299-3180
This year, Black Shoe Bakery will be whipping up king cakes in both 9-inch and 12-inch sizes. The cakes are decorated with purple, green, and gold sugar and icing, Mardi Gras beads and a baby hidden inside. Pre-orders will be accepted online through the Black Shoe store for pick-up on Friday Feb. 5; or through Maxie's catering site (with two days notice) with pick-up through Feb. 16.
6901 W. North Ave., (414) 258-5282
Cranky Al’s in Wauwatosa has made it an annual tradition to bake up king cakes for enjoyment on Fat Tuesday, and this year is no different. In fact, this year, they will be serving up their usual cakes made with sweet Danish dough and filled with cinnamon and sugar, along with king cake doughnuts. Both cakes and doughnuts will sell for $30 each. Pre-orders can be placed for both the cakes and the doughnuts online, beginning on Jan. 15. All will be available for pick-up on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 16.
4. Grebe’s Bakery
5132 W. Lincoln Ave., (414) 543-7000
Grebe’s bakery will also offer king cakes. The cakes will be available for purchase in the week leading up to Fat Tuesday (Feb. 16). Pre-orders for the cakes can be made by calling the bakery.
5. Mila’s European Bakery
239 N. Main St., Thiensville
Mila’s will offer Louisiana-style cakes made with a sweet Danish-style dough, icing and sprinkles; filling options will include almond, apple, strawberry and Bavarian cream. A very limited number of cakes are traditionally on hand at the bakery during the week of Fat Tuesday; but pre-orders are highly recommended. The cakes will be sold for $10 each. Orders can be placed by phone; please allow at least three days lead time for your order. King cake kits (decorate your own) are also available; call to inquire.
6. National Bakery
3200 S. 16th St., (414) 672-1620
13820 W. Greenfield Ave., Brookfield (262) 827-4097
5637 Broad St., Greendale (414) 423-4620
National Bakery will have king cakes available beginning the second week in February. The cakes, which are made with a traditional Danish laminated dough infused with cinnamon, are iced and decorated with green, gold and purple sanding sugars. Each cake is $18.95 and comes complete with a little plastic baby. Pre-orders are accepted and encouraged.
7. North Shore Boulangerie
4401 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood, (414) 963-2153
North Shore Boulangerie will offer traditional French galette des rois (“cake of kings”), a light, flaky pastry filled with a frangipane almond cream. Normally, the cakes are available only on Kings Day (January 6). But this year, customers can pre-order cakes to be picked up January 6 through the 31. Pricing is $20 for a 6-inch cake and $30 for a 10-inch cake. Pre-orders can be placed online.
8. O&H Danish Bakery
9540 S. 27th St., Oak Creek, (414) 856-1141
717 S. Sylvania Ave., Sturtevant, (262) 898-1950
4006 Durand Ave., Racine, (262) 554-1311
1841 Douglas Ave., Racine, (262) 637-8895
5910 Washington Ave., Racine, (262) 504-7000
If you’re looking for a king cake with Wisconsin flair, look no further than O&H Danish Bakery. Their king cake is a cream cheese kringle decorated in green, purple and gold and sold with three strands of beads, a plastic baby and a copy of the king cake story. The cakes can be picked up at one of the O&H stores (available Feb. 8-16) or ordered online (available now through Feb. 19). Pricing for the kringles is $11.75 in-store or $27.99 plus shipping when ordered online.
9. Simma’s Bakery
817 N. 68th St., Wauwatosa, (414) 257-0998
Simma’s bakery will be offering king cake in two flavors (chocolate chip cheese and raspberry cheese) for Fat Tuesday (Feb. 16). The cakes must be pre-ordered on or before Saturday, Feb. 13 for pick-up on the 13th. A very limited number of cakes will also be available in the bakery for purchase. Cost is $14.95 each (a plastic baby is included).
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.