Picture this: You’re at a Mardi Gras party, and the host brings out a delicious looking purple, green, and gold cake. The cake is cut, pieces passed out, and you take your glorious first bite. Only to find that, wait, you’re no longer chewing on delicious cake… but some type of plastic toy. You spit it out onto your plate and realize you were chewing on a small plastic toy baby. Shocked? Well, that’s because it’s a huge Mardi Gras tradition. But why? Why is there a baby in King cake in the first place?
It all started in the '40’s back in New Orleans. A baker named Donald Entringer, owner of McKenzie’s Bakery, was approached by a man who was trying to sell an abundance of small porcelain babies. Ethringer decided to buy the babies and hide them within the King cakes he was making. Of course, the trend caught on, but acquiring porcelain babies can get expensive — so, to continue the tradition, Entringer used plastic babies to hide within the cake.
Although it wasn’t intentional, the tradition of the small baby in the cake has come to symbolize numerous meanings. The first one is the fact that the person who finds the baby becomes king or queen for the day — and will also be the person to host the Mardi Gras party next year.
The second meaning is the belief that the small baby symbolizes baby Jesus. King Cake is a dessert that is common throughout the season starting with Epiphany and ending with Mardi Gras, otherwise known as Fat Tuesday. It’s the season of celebration before Ash Wednesday, when the fast would begin to prepare for the death of Jesus and the Easter season.
Now I’m sure you have two thoughts: Oh, that’s such a cute tradition, and wait, what if I choked on the thing? Many bakeries understand that people may not understand the tradition, which is why most King cake orders come with a small plastic baby placed on top. The party host then has the option to hide the small baby within the cake, or to scrap the tradition all together.
Either way, you are now the master of the party! Enjoy it!