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Mardi Gras and king cakes

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Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday - call it what you will - is being celebrated this year on March 4. It’s the last day for festive eating and drinking before the severity of Ash Wednesday and Lent.

In many countries, Mardi Gras is not only a time for eating and drinking, but also for carnivals, masked balls and costumed parades. In this country, New Orleans is the capital of Mardi Gras parades, balls and feasting. One of the specials of the season is the king cake.

King cakes, called galette des rois in French, were brought to Louisiana from France. Originally, the cakes were baked to celebrate the Epiphany, or twelfth night, celebrated on January 6th in honor of the visit of the three kings to the baby Jesus in Nazareth. Each cake is baked with a charm, and the person who gets the charm in his or her slice, is the king of the day. In France, the cake is usually made of puff pastry with an almond cream filling.

In New Orleans, the cakes are not necessarily made of puff pastry. Some are made with a yeast dough and some even incorporate whipped cream cheese and cinnamon. Many feature toppings in purple, green and gold sugar, said to represent justice, faith and power.

King cakes are available in the Washington area from a number of bakeries. Native New Orleans native David Guas’ Bayou Bakery (1515 N. Courthouse Rd, 703-243-2410) makes a 12 to 14 inch cake for $43. The cake must be ordered 48 hours in advance.

Best Buns in Arlington (4010 Campbell Ave., 703-578-1500) bakes a 10 inch cake for $13.75, or an 8 inch cake for $8.95. It’s best to order the cake 24 hours in advance.

Praline Bakery (4611 Sangamore Rd., 301-229-8180)) in Bethesda makes Louisiana style cakes, priced at $25 for a 10 inch cake, which must be ordered two days in advance.

It’s always fun to share one of the king cakes with a group of friends, as well as being a continuation of a custom that originated in the 14th century when French families celebrated the Epiphany in France.

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