It’s easy to blurt out a list of my favorite king cakes. They’re the ones that inevitably pop into my mind every year before twelfth night, and the ones I have to promptly dismiss in the name of what’s new and cool and hip (do people still use those words?). Seriously though, the numerous bakeries I have yet to try are sure to beat out my “best of” sooner or later, and when I find it, you know I’ll let you know, as soon as I know. But for now , in no particular order, here are the top five queens of king cakes I crave every year, the ones I try so desperately to put on the back burner, but often fail resulting in far too much king cake consumed, and a lot more fat on my ass.
*Side note: I was desperately trying to remember the first king cake I ever ate, but only three things come to mind — it was purchased at the Breaux Mart on Magazine (then an A&P), it was filled with Bavarian cream, and it made me far happier than a $10 cake ever should.
Galette des Roi from La Petite Sophie Patisserie
I know this isn’t a traditional New Orleans king cake, but it is the original king cake and as such, deserves respect. While I’ve yet to try a galette des roi in its birthplace, I am fortunate enough to live within driving distance of La Petite Sophie Patisserie where one of the finest galettes are made. Jeff Becnel, chef and owner of La Petite Sophie Patisserie, is a freaking magician when it comes to laminated dough, just try one of his kouign-amann and tell me I’m lying. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on one of these beauties, especially if you can get it still warm from the oven, it will be one of the best pastries to ever grace your lips and that, my friends, is a bona fide guarantee!
Chocolate King Cake from Bittersweet Confections
A beautiful brioche with a chocolate and cream cheese filling smothered in chocolate icing — how can you not like this king cake? Unless, of course, you just don’t like chocolate. You do like chocolate, don’t you? Putting all chocolate aside (is that even possible?), the brioche itself is equally lovely. Once you have this king cake on your counter, you may walk away after a slice or two, but your mind will still be in the box. If you happen to purchase one, I’m betting the cake will be gone in less than 12 hours, faster if there’s more than one person in the house.
Cherries Jubilee from Gracious Bakery
The bakers over at Gracious are churning them out, but so far, they have yet to make my Gert Town favorite, the Cherries Jubilee. In fact, the last time I’ve had my lips on a slice of this cherry bomb of a cake with rum-soaked cherry filling, white icing and a cherry puree glaze, was before the pandemic. Ahh … good times!
Classic Brioche from Tartine
Are you surprised by this one? Really? Cara’s bread is the bomb. How could her king cake be any different? A bountiful, buttery brioche with white icing and sugar crystals in purple, green, and gold. It is wondrous in its simplicity, and touts Cara’s mad, mad skills as a bakester.
Goat Cheese & Apple from Cake Cafe & Bakery
The beloved Bywater bakery closed back in June of 2020, but their king cake game is still strong and they’re still busting out their Pollack-iced, apple and goat cheese-filled king cakes. As opposed as some purists may be to their untraditional style and filling, if chef/owner Steve Himelfarb decided to stop selling these delectable beauties, there’d be riots. Riots, I tell you!
**The lead image is the Caramel Crunch King Cake from Willa Jean. It was good, but not good enough to break into my top five! It is awfully pretty, though, isn’t it?