Mardi Gras is a celebration that offers something for everyone. Whether you like to drink too much, host a po’boy or try new sweet treats, Mardi Gras is the perfect opportunity for a little indulgence.
While paczki have traditionally ruled the roost in Pittsburgh-area Mardi Gras celebrations, New Orleans loves to celebrate with the delicious kings cake. Most traditional king cakes have three things in common: cinnamon topping, colorful frosting, and a baby hidden inside. That’s right, there’s a little plastic baby hidden in the cake! Whoever finds the baby in its slice is on the hook for the next king cake purchase.
King cakes vary by bakery. Sometimes the cinnamon filling is replaced with cream cheese, praline or berry jam; some bakeries make their king cakes with vermicelli or more elaborate icings. Although king cakes are almost always formed in a circle, some bakeries braid or twist theirs for more detail.
For yinzers hungry for a taste of the Big Easy, Very Local has gone in search of the best king cakes in Greater Pittsburgh. We ended up trying royal cakes from three different local bakeries so you and your family can find the best king cake for your festivities. Each was tasty in a different way. Get your pearls and read on for our findings!
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The mecca of local pastries Oakmont Bakery offers old-fashioned cinnamon king galettes, cream cheese, praline and raspberry, as well as mini cinnamon king galettes and other Mardi Gras treats. For a very limited few days, you can also order savory king cake for a more umami Fat Tuesday.
King cakes are usually presented in festive boxes which often explain some of the Mardi Gras traditions associated with the dessert. The name of the cake itself is derived from the Magi or the Three Kings of Christmas fame. A “message from the three kings” further details this religious connection.
The Oakmont Bakery royal cake itself was smothered in a festive cream cheese dressing. The cake was moist and dense, with a nice cinnamon swirl running through it. To avoid a bad surprise, the plastic baby is left out for you to put in the cake yourself.
Some slices were thicker than others, but every bite was rich and rewarding. If you’re less of a foodie than us, you might find the frosting a bit heavy – although delicious, it was very thick. It could be a lagniappeas the Cajuns say, but it might be a bit overwhelming if you only enjoy a small slice for breakfast.
Overall, Oakmont Bakery made an impression with a festive, traditional style and lovely bites of sweet pastry and cinnamon. This was a great royal cake for anyone looking for a straight New Orleans treat smothered in sweet goodness. We reward Oakmont Bakery the most traditional king cake for ticking all the boxes.
Located north of the ‘Burgh in charming downtown Beaver, by Kretchmar is a traditional bakery with a wide range of delectable products. The shop is currently being renovated to better serve customers, but that hasn’t stopped Kretchmar from producing donuts, pączki, custom cakes and more.
The King of Kretchmar cake was dazzling and delicious. Scalloped with bright beads and colorful sprinkles and braided into a festive wreath, this cake looked as fun and sweet as it tasted. Kretchmar’s, in particular, does not offer cinnamon king cake. Instead, they offer a cream cheese or nut filling (we opted for the cream cheese). The King of Kretchmar cake also differs by hiding a chocolate coin rather than a plastic baby for an extra sweet treat with no strings attached!
Although the cream cheese filling might be a little thin in places, Kretchmar’s dough was the best of the three cakes we tried, with a golden color and deliciously soft brioche texture. The dressing and sprinkles added sweetness and crunch – overall the first impression this cake made was that of a gigantic delicious donut.
Although not the most traditional cake in New Orleans, Very Local came away very pleased with Kretchmar’s baking. We award Kretchmar’s King Cake the the most decadent for its excellent texture and softness.
Prantl’s is widely known throughout Pittsburgh for its inimitable burnt almond tartbut they also serve a wide variety of pastries and artisan cakes stuffed with cinnamon, strawberries or nuts.
Prantl’s royal cake was dressed for success in frosting, sugar sprinkles in traditional New Orleans green, purple and gold; and the obligatory plastic beads, coins and baby. Their dough was probably the most bread-like and rolled into the most perfect oval of the three cakes we tried. This meant that each piece had a nice swirl of cinnamon that ran evenly down the center, and the frosting was perfect, with a nice bonus crunch from the sugar sprinkles.
The flavor of Prantl’s cake was perfect, but the downside of the bread-like dough was that it ended up a bit dry. Overall it was tasty and enjoyable, but we wondered if the strawberry filling option might have sweetened this bad boy. The silver lining is that this made a perfect treat to go with morning coffee – we thought Prantl’s King’s Cake was the best breakfast of the tree.
Whatever you love most in a royal cake, Pittsburgh-area bakeries are here to help you celebrate with a full belly. Order yours soon to receive it in time for Mardi Gras. Maybe you will be the lucky one who finds the baby?
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