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What is a king cake and what does it have inside?

 

(Judy Bottoni/Getty Images)

King cake is a colourful treat and fun Mardi Gras tradition, not to mention yummy. Best of all, every king cake hides a surprise inside!

What is Mardi Gras?

People dressed up for Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
People dress up in costumes and parade through the streets during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The word Mardi Gras (say “mar-dee-graw”) is French for “Fat Tuesday.” That’s because Mardi Gras originated from the Catholic tradition of enjoying rich, fatty foods before fasting (abstaining from food or drink for religious purposes) on Ash Wednesday for the Lenten season. Mardi Gras is like a big carnival that is celebrated in countries all around the world! But no one throws a party like they do in New Orleans, U.S.A.

 

A parade float features a colourful king in the Mardi Gras parade.
"Fat Tuesday" is marked with parades and marches through New Orleans. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Over one million people attend Mardi Gras to watch the colourful parades, enjoy the incredible feasts and to snag a slice of king cake!


Be sure to read All about Lent - the 40 days before Easter


A cake fit for a king!

A baker braids dough that will be used to make king cakes.
A New Orleans baker braids the dough that will be used for king cakes. (Judi Bottoni/AP Photo)

Hundreds of thousands of king cakes are eaten in New Orleans every year! These sweet treats are made from dough that has been braided into a ring to look like a king’s crown.

 

King cake frosted with purple, green and yellow icing.
King cake frosted with purple, green and yellow icing. Photo by melanie licensed CC-BY-NC 2.0

After the cake is baked, it’s topped with frosting, sugar or sprinkles in a mix of purple, green and gold — the traditional colours of Mardi Gras.


A surprise inside!

A small, plastic baby figurine.
The tradition of the king cake was first documented in France during the 1300s, but it some say it originated from ancient pagan festivals. Photo by Liza Lagman Sperl licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Want to know a secret? Every king cake comes with a surprise! In New Orleans, king cakes are baked with a tiny plastic baby inside. The figurine represents good luck and whoever finds it in their slice of cake gets to throw next year's Mardi Gras bash!

 

Colourful king cake up close.
A plastic figurine with a crown is usually hidden in the king cakes that are served during Mardi Gras. (Judy Bottoni/Getty Images)

In some celebrations, finding the Mardi Gras baby also means you’ll be crowned king or queen for the day.