Due to the cancellation of Mardi Gras parades for the first time since a police union strike in 1979, New Orleanians have more time than ever to focus their creative appetites on king cake. Carnival’s signature dessert, brought to New Orleans from France around 1870, was originally a simple pastry composed of brioche-style bread and light frosting. More than 150 years later, king cake is now available in a dizzying number of local styles, flavors, and textures. Choosing which bakery to order from, and which variety of cake to consume, is both an overwhelming endeavor and joyful hobby.
To help us navigate the delectable, diverse king cake universe, I recently asked dozens of local friends, family, and foodies to tell me about their favorite cakes on social media, requesting that they focus on cakes that are as uniquely unpredictable as 2020 and 2021 have been. In other words, I wanted to hear about the rule-breakers — the rebel cakes that make folks say “but that’s not a king cake!” I narrowed this list of misfits down further by focusing on lesser-known bakeries or varieties that are new to this season (sorry, Dong Phuong, Haydel’s, and Antoine’s, you have some truly creative cakes, but you’re just too famous!). And so, here you have it:
10 Unique King Cakes to try in 2021 (in no particular order):
NOCCA’s French Truck Cafe Au Lait-filled King Cake
Coffee-addicts beware: this new king cake, designed by Chef Dana D’Anzi Tuohy (NOCCA Culinary Arts department chair), together with Chef Steve Himelfarb (French Truck Coffee), includes three kinds of coffee with a cream cheese filling, topped with purple, gold, and green glaze. Better yet, revenue from king cake sales will benefit NOCCA’s Culinary Arts Department (where future chefs, perhaps some of them king cake crafters-to-be, are being trained!).
It’s “Delish, not too sweet,” says a recent customer.
GW Fins Pretzel King Cake with Praline stuffing and fish baby
“Soft and chewy like a soft pretzel” but without the pretzel-flavor, this one-of-a-kind King Cake pretzel is filled with cinnamon praline cream. Designed by GW Fins Executive Chef Michael Nelson, these king cakes are sold individually or in sets of 6. A fish, instead of a baby, is hidden inside.
Orders can be made at GW Fins online menu or at King Cake Hub.
Ryan Universe Banana’s Foster King Cake
Seasoned New Orleans pastry chef Ryan McDougall offers king cakes filled with the stuff that dreams are made of: strawberry-cream cheese, pineapple-coconut, peanut-butter and jelly, or bananas foster. The Bananas Foster cake features Foster sauce and banana inside, and more Foster sauce on top. The pineapple-coconut is sprinkled with toasted coconut. All cakes feature local produce and organic ingredients.
“It’s a beautifully flaky, light king cake,” says one customer.
Norma’s Bakery Guava and Cheese King Cake
Norma’s Sweets Bakery, a Cuban bakery located in Mid-City, features a king cake like none other. Filled with a slightly tart guava paste and lightly sweetened cream cheese, Norma’s cake is topped with splashes of white icing and purple, gold, and green sugar. The cake texture is light, layered, and promises to transport you to the tropics.
Norma’s king cakes can be ordered via phone (504-309-5401) or in person at 2925 Bienville St., New Orleans.
Nor-Joe’s Cannoli King Cake
Nor-Joe’s Importing Company, “Metairie’s top Italian import company,” is a wholesale distributor of European food products to many restaurants in New Orleans. Their signature king cake, filled with cannoli cream and mini chocolate chips, is topped with almonds, sprinkles, and icing. Quite simply, it’s a perfect blend of the sweet, savory decadence of a king cake with the signature taste of a cannoli.
Nor-Joe’s cannoli king cakes can be ordered via phone (504-833-9240) or in person at 505 Frisco Ave., Metairie.
Not Too Fancy Salted Caramel and Candied Pecan King Cake
Not Too Fancy Bakery is a Kenner Home bakery. Pastry Chef Calvin Virgil offers king cake varieties such as Salted Caramel and Candied Pecan, Banana and Nutella, Strawberry and Cream Cheese, and Traditional with Cream Cheese.
The Salted Caramel and Candied Pecan cake certainly doesn’t “look” like a king cake, but the light, flaky cake, hand-twisted with cinnamon and sugar, is truly where the good times roll. Topped with a sugar glaze, candied pecans, and salted caramel, it is baked with a lightly sweetened cream cheese filling (as are all Not Too Fancy king cakes).
“Calvin makes our favorite,” said one customer.
Orders can be placed via text at 504-877-1087. Check the Instagram page for frequent updates about pop-ups and pick-ups (deliveries are not available).
Ideal Market Tres Leches King Cake
Ideal Market’s Tres Leches literally shines with festive carnival flair. The cake is wrapped in a lustrous, silky coating of Mardi Gras colors while a gorgeous layer of whipped cream fills the center of the pastry. The soft cake is soaked with the three milks — evaporated, condensed, and whole– without being overly moist or gooey. “It’s where a traditional Latin American pastry meets a historic New Orleans treat,” one online fan commented.
This cake is available at any Ideal Market location for pre-order or pickup.
Brennan’s Pink Parade King Cake
This year, Brennan’s French Quarter Restaurant is offering king cakes for the first time in its 75-year history. New to the scene are the Pink Parade King Cake and Black and Gold Chocolate King Cake (as well as a traditional cake too). The Pink Parade Cake, meant to recall the pink exterior of Brennan’s famed restaurant, is “a light brioche, not very eggy,” says a recent customer. “The bread is not very cinnamon-y or sweet, but the icing is really sweet. So, it balances out. Pink Parade comes filled with strawberry-flavored cream cheese… not a lot of filling, which keeps all of the flavors in check.” Strawberries from local farms are used to created the strawberry jam mixed into the cream cheese.
Brennan’s king cakes are available at King Cake Hub, Brennan’s Restaurant (417 Royal Street, New Orleans), Ralph’s on the Park (900 City Park Ave., New Orleans), and Cafe NOMA at New Orleans Museum of Art (inside New Orleans’ City Park).
La Petite Sophie King Cakes
La Petite Sophie is a Modern European Patisserie that boasts its “own versions of Nola classics” as well as traditional French pastries. They offer 5 different king cakes, including a traditional French Galette des Rois. Their signature king cake is the Kouign Amann. Kouign Amann (pronounced kween ah-mon) is an buttery, crispy crown-shaped classic French pastry largely unknown in the United States until recently. This cake is both heavier and sweeter than a croissant, as it boasts a salted, caramelized outer layer and moist, sugar-sprinkled interior. La Petite also offers a brioche king cake filled with cream cheese and fresh strawberries and a traditional crunchy variety.
Orders are available over the phone (504-667-3472) or in person at 9047 Jefferson Hwy., River Ridge. Their Instagram showcases customer favorites and pop-up information.
Eclair Delicieux is a Westbank pastry shop that features this stunning Berry Napoleon King Cake. “This cake uses a puff pastry with chantilly cream instead of traditional dough,” explains one customer. The bakery also offers a Babka-inspired king cake and chantilly-filled cupcakes with purple, gold, and green sprinkles on cream frosting.
Orders can be placed over the phone (504-324-9676) or in person at 900 Terry Pkwy, #220. Terrytown. Their Instagram features frequent updates.
Take some time to revive your inner-rebel this carnival season by treating your taste buds to one (or all?) of these rule-breaking king cake treasures. You just might find a new favorite … or several!