January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas, the day that the Three Kings honored the Christ child. The feast day is celebrated with a "King Cake" in many parts of the world. The King Cake often has a prize inside, often in the form of a baby, in honor of the baby Jesus. The person who chomps down on the baby receives honors and obligations -- like wearing a crown for the rest of the party and having to buy the cake next year.
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In New Orleans, Twelfth Night marks the beginning of the Mardi Gras season. New Orleans bakeries start selling King Cakes on January 6 and continue until Fat Tuesday. The cakes are usually decorated in Mardi Gras colors and range in quality from dry, boring supermarket versions to cream cheese and fruit-filled extravaganzas. The baby usually comes on the outside these days -- you have to stick it in the cake yourself. (Thank the liability-insurance lawyers.)
Everybody has his or her favorite bakery for King Cakes, including me. I have been buying King Cakes from Rao's Bakery (pronounced Ray-o's) for years. The original Rao's was opened in 1941 in Beaumont. I went to the big Beaumont location at 4440 Dowlen Road this year and got a raspberry-cream-cheese version. One of these days, I am going to try the chocolate-coconut Zulu King Cake. Rao's ships thousands of cakes all over the country this time of year. You can mail order cakes from its website.
The Houston-area Rao's location is at 6915 Cypresswood in Spring.