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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 02/23/2011

Memo to everyone: King cake season is now

By Tim Carman
photo(43)_opt.jpg My attempt to create David Guas's King cake. (Tim Carman)

The woman behind the counter at the Giant bakery in Silver Spring flashed me a look as if I had just asked about her blood work. Actually, what I wanted to know was whether Giant had any king cakes available. I had looked around the bakery's floor and spied all sorts of St. Patrick's Day cookies, each glowing a rather unappetizing shade of neon green, but not a single king cake.

The woman said it was too early for king cakes.

I had to bite my tongue, a semi-polite Midwestern boy to the core. As it does every year, St. Patrick's Day falls on March 17, while Mardi Gras falls on March 8 this year, which, by Giant's logic, means that king cakes should have their moment in the spotlight before those glittery Leprechaun cookies. But Giant's mistake runs deeper.

King cake season, you see, does not begin and end with Mardi Gras, as some folks think. Its season starts on Jan. 6, or Twelfth Night, the day the three wise men finally reached the baby Jesus. Which means that Giant, and every other bakery that wanted to, could have been cranking out king cakes for weeks to satisfy all those wild Carnival parties that lead up to Mardi Gras -- and the sad deprivation that follows.

As you can imagine, given the general Northern ignorance toward this New Orleans tradition, king cakes are not easy to find 'round these parts. Giant will have them later -- at least in Silver Spring; Deputy Food Editor Bonnie Benwick says she's spotted them at the Giant in her Bethesda neighborhood. You can also find the sweet ovals at Bayou Bakery in Arlington, where chef/owner David Guas, a Louisiana native, sells the colorful cakes. You'd be smart to special order them from Guas, because they go fast whenever he bakes 'em. Call 703-243-2410 and reserve one.

Or you can get one shipped straight from the bayou itself. The Post's in-house Louisiana expert, otherwise known as Web Producer Marie Elizabeth Oliver, suggests you buy your king cake from one of these sources:

And if none of these options appeal, you can always wait 'til next week, when the Food section serves up several original king cake recipes, including one for the brioche-based cake pictured below, which was created by master baker Mark Furstenberg. More later. Much more.

IMG_0050_opt.jpg The brioche-based king cake by Mark Furstenberg . (Mark Furstenberg)

By Tim Carman  | February 23, 2011; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chefs, Holiday, Recipes  | Tags:  Mardi Gras, Tim Carman  
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