As folks in New Orleans get ready for Mardi Gras, others in the Big Easy are hard at work — rolling the dough, to make some dough.
"Mardi Gras is what, 40% of our sales, yearly. So that tells you how much we need it," said Adrian Darby, owner of Adrian's Bakery in New Orleans.
The pastry of the season? King cake — a tasty, twisty treat eaten between King's Day on Jan. 6 and Fat Tuesday, coming up Feb. 13. For Darby, it's a key part of his bakery in the city's Gentilly neighborhood.
"Without Mardi Gras you have to make cutbacks, and you don't want to do that. You have full-time employees that you want to maintain," said Darby.
By some accounts, king cake is named after the three wise men who visited baby Jesus in the Bethlehem manger. A tiny plastic baby is often hidden inside the desserts.
"Once we get to the last, maybe two weeks, we're anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 a day, and it's just keep moving, fill every rack, keep baking, don't stop, keep moving, don't ask, just get in!" said Darby.
The traditional king cake is a ring of braided brioche topped with purple, green and gold sugar. Some bakers use Danish-style pastry dough and added fillings like cream cheese or fruit preserves.
"Everything is hand braided, all the flavors get put in that way. It's not just rolled up in a machine," said David Haydel Jr., co-owner of Haydel's Bakery.
Over three generations, Haydel's Bakery grew from a window-service shop in New Jefferson to a worldwide seller of New Orleans goodies — including, of course, king cakes.
"We give it the time to rise in the proof house and all that develops flavor in the dough," said Haydel. "We still do it the old fashioned way and that's what sets our cake apart from a lot of the other ones."
Whoever finds the plastic baby inside is said to be "king" for the day, but food historian Liz Williams says it also carries some responsibility.
"People will pick up a king cake and take it to work and then whoever gets the baby in the work king cake has to bring one the next day. So people are eating it all the time."
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