It's the final week for king cake, the traditional pastry that's served from Twelfth Night through Mardi Gras.
For Seattle adherents to the southern Louisiana tradition, there aren't too many cakes from which to choose: Where Ya At Matt serves a lightly glazed, unfilled ring cake that's far better than the accompanying photo suggests. The moist cake has an ideal amount of cinnamon, and isn't overloaded with sugar.
But in New Orleans (aka king cake central), there are countless variations on the seasonal cake. There are ring cakes crammed with cream cheese and showered with colored sugar, and braided cakes flavored with strawberries. While ring cakes -- similar in weight and texture to a brioche or danish -- are the most popular style, New Orleans Times-Picayune food editor Judy Walker says a Gallic puff pastry with almond filling has plenty of fans.
"I have talked to numerous people who have Champagne and galette de roi for Mardi Gras breakfast," Walker says.
No matter how the cake's baked, there's always a favor (or, in French, feve) baked into the cake. It's typically a plastic baby, although the toy isn't meant to symbolize Jesus: That's a myth, Walker says. Whoever finds the favor is supposed to buy the next cake
This year, Walker is bravely responding to the yearly "king cake escalation in New Orleans" by coordinating a citywide king cake competition. The paper asked readers to nominate bakeries for the "King Cake King" crown, and used an online poll to winnow down the 36 suggestions to a more manageable five. A panel of experts has spent weeks sampling the contenders.
Closer to home, Where Ya At Matt's Matt Lewis plans to keep baking king cakes through Feb. 19.
"They're selling well," he warns. "Slices sell out almost every day.