The king cake tradition, dating back over 300 years, originated as a means to celebrate the “Epiphany” which commemorates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child in Christian tradition. The term "Magi" refers to the Three Wise Men, also known as the Three Kings. Evolving across continents over centuries, the king cake has manifested in various forms, such as the southern French Brioche des Rois, the northern French Galette des Rois, and the Mexican Rosca De Reyes. However, some argue that the king cake's true breakthrough occurred in 1964 when Hurricane Betsy devastated a New Orleans donut shop, Haydel’s Sunny Flake Bakery, later rebuilt by David Haydel and Dottie Freeland, introducing their now-famous king cakes to the menu. With only minor alterations to the recipe since the 1960s, the third generation of Haydels safeguards the legacy, producing over 75,000 king cakes using the same recipe in 2016.
King cakes, whether traditional or filled, are crafted from danish dough, braided by hand with cinnamon and sugar, baked, and topped with fondant icing. The Sugar-Only King Cakes follow the same process but skip the icing. Filled King Cakes offer variations like praline pecan, cream cheese, strawberry cream cheese, German chocolate, and brownie chocolate chip, creating a filled valley on the braided dough. "Da Parish" King Cakes have purple, green, and gold sugar baked on top, generously drizzled with icing and adorned with sprinkles after baking.
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