King of Kings
A King Cake, as you ought to know by now, is one of those buttery, neon-frosted concoctions that announces the approach of Mardi Gras -- and inside which hides an eensy toy baby. Symbolically, that little plastic figurine represents the Baby Jesus, who was found by the Three Kings on Epiphany (January 6, the start of King Cake season). But few coffee klatches care about that symbolism: Practically, what's important is that whoever bumps his teeth on the baby is responsible for buying the next cake for the group -- a lovely, self-perpetuating habit that continues until Fat Tuesday (this year, February 24). If you're looking to buy a starter cake, your best bet is Acadian Bakers, where owner Sandy Bubbert has been making a marvelous version for 18 years. Her basic cake's base is buttery and dense, with a sprinkling of cinnamon and pecans, and is entirely too rich to precede a season as deprivation-oriented as Lent -- but then, deprivation's not what King Cake is all about. (You might mention to the unlucky baby-biter that besides the standard cinnamon-pecan, Bubbert offers other varities, such as raspberry, and cream cheese with pralines.)

The cake's lurid top cranks up the party-hearty spirit still further: A thick swirl of shocking purple, green and white icing is bedecked with sparkly silver dragees. Bubbert, a purist, scoffs at lesser King Cakes sold in a grocery store whose name she can't bring herself to utter. Rather than going to the trouble of making icing, the offender dares to sprinkle its version with tinted powdered sugar. Bubbert shudders: "Powdered sugar, I think, is yuck-o."

She also laments another erosion of tradition that, alas, has affected even her operation. Acadian Bakers, like all good Louisiana confectioners, used to mix the baby inside the cake batter, baking it in without a trace. But then, she says, somebody in New Orleans got caught unawares and took the baker to court, and Bubbert's lawyer strongly advised her to take notice. Reluctantly, she conceded. Now, instead of baking in the little plastic Jesus, Acadian Bakers plops him in the middle of the cake's ring, and instructs the buyer -- if he or she is the right sort of consenting adult -- to manually insert the baby into the cake. It's not traditional, but there is a benefit to the wily cake buyer: This way, at least, you know where the baby is. And you can be sure that you don't have to buy the next cake, too.

--Lisa Gray

Acadian Bakers, 604 W. Alabama, 520-1484.

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