Almost everyone has a favorite aspect of Mardi Gras. For some people, it’s the parades, whether of happy revelers, adorable children or endearing animals. For others, it’s the parties or the chance to have one last blow-out celebration before six weeks of thoughtful reflection. There are even a few who will tell you their favorite part of Mardi Gras is eating king cake.
You probably won’t find very many of those king cake fans. Most of the king cakes sold in the grocery stores are sugar bombs, stuffed with too-sweet filling and buried under an avalanche of more sugar. Local bakeries turn out a better product, with a choice of fruit fillings and a more restrained hand on the sugar-loaded topping, but for those of us without a sweet tooth, the king cakes are still nothing to celebrate.
On the other hand, what if we marked the festivities with a more savory version? A number of bakers have answered that question with king cakes that incorporate other foods associated with New Orleans and Louisiana. Boudin, crawfish and muffulettas have all been part of king cake makeovers.
Galveston’s Gypsy Joynt doesn’t take sides in the sweet vs. savory battle. Bakers there turn out both traditional king cakes with fruit or cream filling, and a muffuletta king cake stuffed with meat and cheese.
Crawfish king cakes have also become a Mardi Gras option. Stuffed crawfish bread is a popular Louisiana treat, and the crawfish king cake uses the filling often found in the bread, a mixture of cream cheese, crawfish tails and finely chopped vegetables. Instead of French bread, however, the filling is encased in a sheet of crescent roll dough. While regular refrigerated crescent roll dough can be used, some recipe developers suggest the unperforated sheets sold in many stores. (If the sheets aren’t available, the perforated dough can be rolled between sheets of plastic wrap until it forms a solid sheet.)
Boudin, Louisiana’s signature rice and meat sausage, can also serve as a savory king cake filling. Since boudin is available in a wide variety of meat ingredients from beef to alligator, and in spice levels from mild to nuclear, it’s adaptable to a range of tastes and preferences.
Making a meaty king cake does make topping it in the traditional colors a bit more challenging. Sweet king cakes are usually made even sweeter by a heavy crust of colored sugar crystals or thick frosting (and sometimes both) in the classic Mardi Gras combination of purple, gold and green. Crawfish cook Holly Clegg suggests dyeing Parmesan cheese with food coloring, but there are plenty of foods with the right colors already. Green bell peppers or the tops of green onions and chopped yellow bell peppers are easy toppings that add crunch, an especially good addition to boudin. The purple trim can be Kalamata olives, bacon crumbles, or crushed bits of beet chips. The muffuletta king cake foregoes the color segments on top for a generous spread of multicolored olive salad, since no muffuletta would be complete without that condiment.