Lexington's love of Cajun food is evident when the University of Kentucky plays Louisiana State University in football and basketball and at Mardi Gras. But a Fat Tuesday staple (this year it's Feb. 17) that often gets overlooked is the king cake.
The great thing about king cake is that you don't have to wait until Mardi Gras; king cake season starts with Epiphany, on Jan. 6, so you can eat it anytime until Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. This year that's Feb. 18. The king cake takes its name from the biblical three kings.
Traditionally whoever gets the tiny baby — which represents the baby Jesus — in their piece of king cake buys the next one, which makes a great excuse for another cake, so the celebration just keeps rolling along.
In Lexington, Beverly Higgins, co-owner of Magee's Bakery, 726 East Main Street, said they make about 200 king cakes each year. They start making them in January, but it really picks up in February.
Last year, right before Fat Tuesday, king cakes filled a big table in the bakery, ring after ring decorated with purple, green and yellow sugar.
"We used to sell three or four hundred," she said, but other bakeries have started offering them, too.
Magee's makes them with a variety of fillings: cinnamon, praline, raspberry and cheese, for $34.50. Each cake serves about 20, and comes with the baby on the side, so you can put it in yourself.
In New Orleans and Gulf Coast cities, the king cake has begun migrating into other holidays and events, with red and green sugar for Christmas, or red and pink for Valentine's Day. Or even team colors for big games.
At Caramanda's Bakery, 332 Southland Drive, owner Steve Henderson said they will have about 200 for the store there and at 3805 Dylan Place, for $35 each.
"We do the traditional one with cinnamon filling, and a sweet dough, more of a bread rather than a cake, and then some flavored fillings like strawberry cream cheese and cream cheese filling," Henderson said. "It's like a giant cinnamon roll."
King cake recipes split into roughly two varieties: the doughy cinnamon-filled type, and one more like a giant cheese Danish. But you also can find recipes that are more like a bundt cake, with a rolled dough to get a nice cinnamon swirl.
Mondelli's Bake Shop, 3120 Pimlico Parkway, also will have king cakes for $25 for one with cinnamon and nuts. Cheese or fruit is available for $5 extra.
Donut Days on Southland Drive and Euclid Avenue will have both traditional cinnamon and an apple variety, for $16.99. If you're looking for just a little something, they will also have doughnuts drizzled in Mardi Gras colors, beignet doughnuts, cookies and cupcakes.
If you need something for a big party or office gathering, they have king cakes the size of full-sized bakery sheet cakes for $79.99.
Last year Donut Days sold about 300 traditional king cakes, and quite a few of the big ones, said Charlene Olup, manager of the Euclid store. She recommended placing orders in advance, particularly for the big cakes.
Also, Midway School Bakery, 510 South Winter Street in Midway, will have king cakes for $15, as well as other Mardi Gras-themed items, such as muffaletta scones, baby king cakes and praline cupcakes with brown sugar frosting, all beginning Feb. 14.
And on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 17, chef Carrie Warmbier will have paczki (pronounced punch-key), a traditional Polish treat that's basically an airy yeast doughnut filled with preserves.
"At home in Michigan, every bakery around Fat Tuesday would have 10 or so varieties of paczki," Warmbier said. "I have been talking about doing paczki since we opened the bakery. This year is the year for paczki in the Bluegrass."