There’s always going to be variety at the King Cake Festival when it comes to delicious desserts being served, but using the same recipe won’t cramp your style. Why not consider some of these traditional variants that aren’t lit up like your typical Mardi Gras King Cake?
Variety is the spice of life
Just as many different types of King Cakes are defined by their original country, the shape and contents of a King Cake can differ greatly. This is because tradition and religion all have something different to add, but more or less, the concept is still left intact. If you’re planning to have your next Mardi Gras party or jump the gun to prepare a tasty treat for Three Kings Day, you’ll want to know what would be fitting.
And even if you’re not keeping tabs on what kinds of King Cakes the other countries are famous for making, we’ve got you covered with some tasty suggestions that represent every county in Europe. Every year since the King Cake Festival began in 2013, there were always new and exciting variants of the King cake being introduced and judged at Champion Square in downtown New Orleans.
You can learn a lot from innovation and creativity, but let’s be honest, 2019 saw the first Ice-cream King cake that might have wowed the judges but left devoted cake fans pretty pissed off. So, to start things off right, here are the standard dessert cakes that are categorized by their country of origin.
See our favorite baking tools.
Cake Styles from Around the World
This is often known to be the birthplace of the King cake, but others might suggest that the Basque region in Spain also contributed heavily to this tradition. It’s quite hard to say because the 15th century shared a lot of ideas along with seasonal migration. Since northern Basque sits right at the border with the south of France, it would have been commonplace for travelers to mingle and share their wears as they moved back and forth between countries.
Essentially, the French recipe is called Galette des Rois’, or the appropriate translation is commonly The Cake of Kings. It’s made from a flaky puff pastry that is filled with frangipane almond cream. Other variations might include sliced fruit inside and even chocolate and will have a decorative pattern scored onto the top of the pastry before it’s baked. By tradition, there is a Fava bean hidden somewhere inside the cake as a prize.
It’s also part of French tradition that a paper crown is placed on the top of each cake which is then awarded to the youngest in the family to wear for the day. Obviously, the Fava bean is intended to be found by the youngest, which is also decided by the parents -most of the time.
Spain also has an interesting twist on their King cake dessert which is ring-shaped like a large donut and will include candied fruits on top and almond-flavored icing placed in the middle, or sometimes on top. More often than not, the Spanish version is what you’ll see in New Orleans despite the French settlement of Louisiana. The Spanish King cakes aren’t as decorative as the New Orleans version and follow what the Portuguese are often doing.
If you’ve ever been into a Mexican pastry shop, seeing candied fruit on top of a cake is typical. This was passed onto South American native culture that was established by the Spanish who brought their customs and religion to the region.
The version of King cake that you’ll find here is ring-shaped but has slight differences in how the toppings are arranged. In addition to candied fruits, you’ll also find a selection of nuts placed along the outer ring. These will often be almonds since almond filling or icing is used on many other King cakes throughout Europe. Once again, the bean is hidden inside the cake for which signaled who would be buying the cake the following year.
The type of cake found here isn’t very significant but according to German traditions will be a lot closer to Christmas symbolism than anything else. The cake is still ring-shaped but will have more of a wreath appearance. A circle of fluffy bun-like pastries surrounds a large bun in the middle of the cake. It’s more or less a soft dinner roll type of pastry that has no filling at all. It’s topped with crushed almonds or perhaps sliced almonds.
The middle bun of this cake will have a crown that sits upon the center and also has a Fava bean hidden somewhere inside the individual buns. It’s eaten typically on January 6th as part of the Three Kings Day celebration of Epiphany. Poland will celebrate with a Bunt cake covered with almond icing and is filled with raisins, dates, walnuts, and dried apricot. Almond is also hidden inside the cake but it will usually be inside its shell- so beware!
Not only does this cake turn up at weddings and other religious festivals, but it’s also consumed on New Year’s Eve. This cake is made from Phyllo dough that’s wrapped around soft cheese and will contain little charms. It’s not uncommon that written fortunes like a fortune cookie are added to the cake also. Phyllo dough is not like dessert puff pastry so it needs to be coated with butter before baking otherwise it’s pretty dry.
In the UK, the Three Kings Cake was a favorite for centuries until it was finally replaced by the Christmas cake. According to the long-standing relationship with France, their King cake was very similar to the French version. The UK version was a marvelous pink-colored affair with Chantilly lace icing around the edges and came complete with ornamental crowns for both a king and queen to be granted to little kids for the day.
This cake is very similar to the French version and will contain almond cream inside. It’s not overly decorative aside from the almonds that are placed on top to show which year it’s celebrating. There is also a coin that is baked into the cake which is similar to the Fava bean and symbolizes good luck and wealth to those who find it. It’s perhaps one of the least attractive-looking King cakes of all the countries that celebrate January 6th.