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.
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.
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