The king cake is the traditional Gulf Coast Carnival pastry, a ring-shaped cake laced with cinnamon, covered in icing and purple, green and gold sugar, with a plastic baby hidden inside. And the king cake party is a thing, usually in workplaces or similar associations, where a different person?typically whoever found the baby in the previous king cake?brings a king cake every week. Every Friday from today through Mardi Gras, Eater NOLA is having our own version of a king cake party, where we're going around town profiling the city's leading king cake bakeries.
This week, we stop by Cake Café and talked to owner Steve Himlefarb to get the lowdown on what they've got to offer. Cake Café is a relatively small outfit on Chartres Street in the Marigny, with a daily focus as much on coffee, breakfast and lunch as on the cakes. While they have several flavors of king cake, they're probably best known for the absurdly good apple & goat cheese one, which has become legendary among those lucky enough to have tried it. Here's everything you need to know about Cake Café, head baker and owner Steve Himlefarb, and their king cakes.
Open since: September 1, 2004 in the French Quarter; closed after Katrina, reopened in the Marigny in 2007, on second anniversary of the storm.
Making king cakes since: Carnival 2005, with a hiatus after the storm.
Flavors: Traditional, Cream Cheese, Raspberry Cream Cheese, Apple & Goat Cheese.
Awards won: Champion, inaugural He Said/She Said NOLA King Cake Death Match; 1st Place in Crescent City Farmer's Market tastings.
How many sold: 15 per day during the week, 25-30 on weekends. Himlefarb says that number will be up to 50 per day as Mardi Gras nears. "It goes up when the parades start and people start having friends over."
Do they ship? No.
Development of king cake recipe: Even though Cake Café is still relatively young, Himlefarb says he "started developing the sweet dough recipe 15-18 years ago" when he was just a regular person baking for fun. "The inspiration was these cinnamon rolls that we used to get when I was in Junior High School. What I remember from them, that was how I found that flavor profile."
The origins of the bakery: Himlefarb started baking for profit by just going around town selling and delivering chocolate cakes. "That's basically how I learned to bake, going door-to-door with the chocolate cakes." The king cakes and everything else came with the opening of the brick-and-mortar bakery years later.
The vision for the king cakes: Any king cake is obviously part of the Mardi Gras iconography. But Himlefarb says he "wanted a king cake that was something else, a work of art. The artwork of Mardi Gras uses all of these big, bold colors, and I wanted this to look like a piece of art with the drizzle of the 'beads' going over it and everything."
The technical difference between the king cakes at Cake Café and elsewhere: Basically, it comes down the apples in that goat cheese cake. "The real thing that sets us apart is we use real fruit, in the apple and goat cheese one in particular. A lot of other places use really pretty processed stuff, and we use real fruit, really fresh fruit."
Have a favorite king cake you want to know more about? Leave it in the comments or email.