Carnival season stretches from Epiphany (January 6) to Fat Tuesday (February 13), the day before Ash Wednesday. From a religious point of view, this is the period when you use up all the fats, sweets, and alcohol in the home to avoid temptation during Lent. In reality, it's party time! One of the enduring symbols of Carnival is the king cake.
Many nations have their own king cake traditions. In the US, the cake is usually laced with cinnamon and decorated with the colors of Mardi Gras: gold for power, green for faith, and purple for justice. In addition, a small infant figurine is placed inside to represent the baby Jesus. Whoever gets the piece of king cake with the baby gets to be the "king." The title comes with the responsibility of buying the next king cake. Bakeries rarely place the figure inside the cake for liability reasons, but will include one on the side.
If you want to buy a king cake, call your local bakeries. If none are available, there are many places that will mail them, but during high demand, they will need quite a bit of notice. Some Louisiana bakeries have already announced they have all the orders they can fulfill this season! But you can also make your own king cake.
During the short time I worked in a bakery, we would make a cinnamon roll, but instead of cutting the roll into individual servings, we would stretch and twist it and form it into a ring to make the traditionally circular king cake, and add the appropriate decorations after baking it. You can do the same, or you can follow a recipe to make yours at home.
(Image credit: Phil Denton)