Today, Jan. 6, is the Christian feast of the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings' Day. Many people around the world like to celebrate with a king cake—a cake traditionally baked with a small trinket inside, often a plastic baby. Typically, the person who finds the toy in their bite of cake is anointed as king or queen, but more recently, in the US, it’s become rarer to find anything in a king cake at all.
According to the Wall Street Journal, for the sake of safety, more and more bakeries have been leaving trinkets out of their king cakes. Poppy Tooker, host of “Louisiana Eats,” an NPR radio program, explained the problem very bluntly to the Journal: “There’s a very simple reason you don’t find favors in king cakes anymore: We have too many lawyers in America.” A more politically correct explanation would be that bakers don’t want to risk Americans, who are less familiar with the tradition, chipping teeth or choking when biting into their king cake.
Traditionally, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t allow nonedible items in confection in the US. However, the government agency has stayed mum on the issue of king cakes, simply offering up the blanket explanation that “Any decision by the FDA to take enforcement action is guided by, among other factors, the agency’s assessment of the public-health risk presented by the particular food and the resources and tools available to the agency.”
So if the FDA doesn’t feel there’s enough risk to take action, what’s the problem? Well, the FDA won’t keep you from getting sued.
As a result, many bakeries are finding creative solutions, like replacing plastic babies with chocolate-covered almonds. Or providing patrons with the trinket on the side, leaving them to insert into the cake at their own risk.
Many bakeries, however, are forging ahead with the tradition. “All of our customers know there is a charm hidden inside,” Abby Klausner, executive assistant at the New York-based François Payard bakery, was quoted as saying. And double-crossing your baker is no way to celebrate Easter.
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