When New Orleans comes to mind, people tend to think of the French Quarter, the unique cemeteries, and, of course, Mardi Gras. New Orleans hosts one of the most famous festivals in the world—in fact, the typical attendance for the celebration is about 1.4 million people!
WHAT IS MARDI GRAS?
Mardi Gras is a Christian holiday and cultural phenomenon that dates back thousands of years. The holiday is also called Fat Tuesday, Carnival, or Carnaval. Mardi Gras is celebrated in countries around the world on the day before the religious season of Lent begins.
MARDI GRAS NEW ORLEANS STYLE
The first American Mardi Gras was a small celebration by French explorers who landed near present-day NOLA on March 3, 1699.
Over the following years, New Orleans and the surrounding French settlements began to recognize the holiday with street parties, masked balls, and extravagant dinners. However, this ended when the Spanish, who took control of the area, outlawed the festivities. This prohibition was enforced until Louisiana became a U.S. state in 1812. Twenty-five years later, the first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took place.
3 MARDI GRAS TRADITIONS
While there are many different ways to celebrate Mardi Gras, New Orleans celebrates with some unique traditions like bead throwing, Zulu coconuts, and King Cake.
The custom of throwing beads to those watching the floats is believed to have started in the late 19th century, when a carnival king threw fake strands of gems and rings to people in the crowds. The beads were originally made of glass and came in the Mardi Gras colors. Each color has a unique meaning. Purple stands for justice, green for faith and gold for power. The beads were originally thrown to people in the crowd who showed those traits. It was thought that those who caught them would have good luck for the year.
Another NOLA tradition is the Zulu coconut. In 1910, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club could not afford to buy Mardi Gras beads. So, a few people went to the French Market and bought a sack of coconuts to throw instead, according to Zulu historian Emeritus Clarence Becknell. Originally, the club threw natural coconuts without any decorations. The Zulu coconut has evolved to be decorated with paint and glitter.
King Cake dates back to the Middle Ages and is one of Mardi Gras’ most popular foods. People generally begin to eat King Cake on January 6 to celebrate the day the Three Kings brought gifts to baby Jesus.
The original King Cake was simpler than it is today. Before, it was only a simple ring of dough. Today, the most popular form of King Cake is a braided Danish pastry with cinnamon and Mardi Gras-colored icing. Baking a baby into the cake didn’t begin until the 1940s. According to tradition, whoever gets the baby in his or her slice of cake needs to buy the next cake or host the next party.
Want to make your own King Cake to celebrate Mardi Gras? Check out the recipe below by Jo from AllRecipes, and for an extra sweet treat, pair it with cup of our smooth Mardi Gras King Cake coffee! Made with 100% select Arabica coffee beans, this flavored medium roast offers a traditional taste of carnival season with a smooth, balanced blend of cinnamon and vanilla.
KING CAKE RECIPE
- 1 cup milk
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
- 2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 2/3 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- Scald milk, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
- When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
- To Make Filling: Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.
- Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10x16 inches or so). Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 oval shaped rings. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
- Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Push the doll into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm with the confectioners' sugar blended with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.
- Make sure to buy a new small plastic baby so you can get the full effect from this cake! Sprinkle with purple, green and gold sugar, or decorate with whole pecans and candied cherries. Note: Be sure to tell everyone to inspect their piece of cake before they begin eating it. To be extra careful, use a plastic toy baby that is too large to swallow, or hide an orange wedge or 3-4 pecan halves inside the cake (avoid items that may hurt someone's teeth) and then simply place the honorable toy baby outside on the top of the cake for all to see and adore!