There’s a bakery boom underway across New Orleans, as more small, independent bakeries open around town. That’s a story that playing out across the country too, all in synch with the trends of artisan, handmade food. But in New Orleans, the story of the bakery revival has a twist – or maybe a braid, shot through with cinnamon and decorated in purple, green and gold.
The difference is king cake, and the urgent, sometimes frenzied demand for it during Carnival season.
For consumers, the growing roster of small bakeries means greater variety. For the businesses, it’s a chance to introduce themselves to new customers when interest in New Orleans bakeries peaks.
But just because the opportunity is big, doesn’t mean it’s easy to break in. King cake preferences run deep. New bakeries are competing with longstanding loyalties and tastes that might stretch back to childhood, refreshed each Carnival season. The major players in king cake are the local grocery chains and big-name bakers, which produce mountains of them.
Still, the little guys and new additions do have a shot. There’s more interest than ever now in king cakes that go beyond traditional, or on the other hand that harken back to the roots of the tradition.
There’s a lot that king cake can be, and these days there’s a lot more bakeries offering their own take.
And for new bakeries, king cake season is a gift that keeps giving. Remember, in more rational communities, post-holiday diets are just taking hold. It’s the slow time for bakers. But in New Orleans, bring on the king cake. The bonanza of Carnival time sales can make a difference for the bottom line of these mom-and-pop shops year-round.
The way I look at it, the king cake I partake in today might just underwrite the more virtuous fresh bread from the corner bakery I rely on year round. That’s why I believe king cake is not just an indulgence, it’s an investment.