Best bet: King Cake

Kay Bakeries' King Cake is more like a Danish than other varieties, says Kay baker Isaac Brown.

Photo by Michael Donahue // Buy this photo

Kay Bakeries' King Cake is more like a Danish than other varieties, says Kay baker Isaac Brown.

The King Cake, with its spring-like colors of purple, yellow and green, probably is my favorite cake. Many King Cakes are just coffee cakes with icing and a plastic baby stuck inside. They make me feel good because it's Mardi Gras time and it won't be long before the weather gets warmer. King Cake traditionally is served on Epiphany or before Lent begins.

Instead of going to a grocery store or to New Orleans, I thought I'd try a King Cake from locally-owned Kay Bakeries. It was delicious.

Queo Bautista, who owns the bakery, told me they need 24 hours notice to make a King Cake, which sells for $12. They mix the ingredients and let the dough rise overnight. The next day they shape it and let it rise another couple of hours before baking it. After it's baked, they decorate it, pop in the baby, which stands for Jesus Christ, and lace Mardi Gras beads over the whole thing. They also add one of those chocolate coins covered in gold foil. That stands for the Three Wise Men, Bautista said.

The cake is made with milk powder, shortening, yeast, cake flour, eggs, colored icing and streusel, which is a mixture of butter, brown sugar, bread crumbs and flour.

Bautista, who was born in Acapulco, Mexico, and grew up in Chicago, didn't learn about King Cakes until he bought Kay Bakeries in 2007, "since we are close to New Orleans here," he said.

The King Cake recipe, like all their other recipes, came with the bakery, Bautista said.

Isaac Brown, veteran Kay Bakeries baker, said he's been using the same recipe at Kay's since he began working there 20 years ago. Before that he worked at the old Carl's Bakery.

I've eaten various kinds of King Cakes, including one filled with cream cheese. Kay's is "more like a coffee cake, Danish," Brown said.

C.J. Parkinson, who owned Kay's before Bautista bought it, remembered a woman who called the bakery every Epiphany to order King Cakes. That's how they knew it was time to start making them, she said. One of the casinos used to order 75 to 100 at a time, she recalled.

Event coordinator Jennifer Ryan bought 20 Kay Bakeries King Cakes this year to serve at St. Anne Catholic School's recent Mardi Gras dinner dance and silent auction.

You don't have to wait until Fat Tuesday to get a King Cake. "I can make them anytime," Brown said.

I asked Bautista how many plastic babies he's used since he bought the bakery. He's gone through "two or three bags" of 100 babies.

Since I watched Bautista decorate my cake, I knew where he put the baby. The story goes that whoever gets the baby in their piece of cake has to buy the cake next year.

To make sure I got the baby, I turned the cake upside down after I got back to the office and, sure enough, there was the baby's head sticking through the cake just about where I thought it was.

OK. I cheated.

Kay Bakeries is at 667 Avon Road; (901) 767-0780.

Michael Donahue: (901) 529-2797; donahue@commercialappeal.com

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