We Tried Five King Cakes for Mardi Gras and This Was the Best One

One Louisiana bakery's recipe beat out every other king cake we've tried. Ever. 

King Cake Taste Test
Photo: Sarah Crowder

With Mardi Gras fast approaching, Carnival season is coming to a close—and so is your window to eat king cakes with abandon. The ring-shaped, cinnamon-streaked brioche desserts are a holiday staple enjoyed in the weeks between Twelfth Night and Mardi Gras itself, and even though they're not as widely sold in New York City, our office has been lucky enough to have a few cakes trickle up from the South over the years. There's something so irresistible about the combination of crunchy, colorful sanding sugar and the sweet cake, and the novelty of finding the tiny plastic baby inside never wears off, even if it means you're on the hook for buying next year's cake.

This year, we called in several at once for a taste test. We'd already been working on a list of the best mail-order king cakes, but wanted to reach out to a few other bakeries to see if we could get their cakes to New York. This proved more difficult than we had initially thought. Several bakeries explained, understandably, that they don't ship in order to preserve the freshness and structure of the cake; others wouldn't have arrived in time for us to try them. Ultimately, we wound up with cakes from five different purveyors: Willa Jean, Cartozzo's Bakery, Caluda's King Cake, Three Brothers Bakery, and The Gumbo Bros. The first three are based in Louisiana, Three Brothers is in Texas, and Gumbo Bros is from our own home base.

While we typically wait to try everything at once during our taste tests, in this case, we ate each cake as soon as it arrived for maximum freshness. Some were dry, others were moist and packed with flavor. It was by no means an all-encompassing representation of all the gorgeous, sugar-dusted king cakes that are out in the world. But in the end, there was one that seriously impressed us. Read on to find out which king cake reigned supreme.

WINNER: Cartozzo's Bakery

Where: Kenner, Lousiana

Of the five cakes we tried, Cartozzo's Bakery was the unanimous favorite. In fact, it beat out every king cake we've ever had delivered to the office. What really set it apart was how moist and flaky the cake was—one editor compared it to a potato bun cinnamon roll—in a good way. Factor in the perfect amount of cinnamon and it's a treat we'd gladly enjoy annually.

"My favorite!" senior editor and Mardi Gras obsessive Margaret Eby wrote in her notes. "A solid king cake through and through. Lots of warm spices and the puddingy texture I know and love."

Willa Jean

Where: New Orleans, Louisiana

Willa Jean's cake was very visually appealing, tall and circular as opposed to ovoid. It had a thick layer of white frosting with the customary layer of gold, purple, and green sanding sugar—small little white "pearls" dotted the top and added a nice, sweet crunch. Although it arrived a little dry and we felt it could have used more cinnamon, it was still enjoyable. Bonus points for the crackly caramel crunch which added extra sweetness and texture.

"Nice coating of sugar around the outside and soft center, not very dense," associate editor Megan Soll noted.

Caluda's King Cake

Where: Harahan, Louisiana

Caluda's king cake also got high marks from our editors. We were a big fan of the icing-to-cake ratio, and enjoyed the flavor, too. It was a bit dry, but had a nice texture.

"This is what I consider a 'great king cake,'" digital operations editor Elsa Säätelä said. "Not dry, lots of cinnamon. Sweet but not overly sweet."

Three Brothers Bakery

Where: Houston, Texas

Three Brothers' king cake came with a lot of fun props, including beads, masks, and a little plastic crown. Compared to the others, it wasn't as sweet—it was also on the dry side, and had an unexpectedly savory filling.

"I can't exactly place the filling here," I wrote in my own notes. "Cream cheese? Mascarpone?"

The Gumbo Bros

Where: Brooklyn, New York City

The Gumbo Bros' king cake immediately set itself apart by having multi-colored icing on top for decoration, as opposed to sanding sugar. In lieu of a dry cinnamon swirl within, there was a gooey cinnamon filling, which won us over. Overall, it was a solid cake.

"Much more like a cinnamon roll than the others!" associate food editor Kelsey Youngman said. "The gooey cinnamon swirl offsets a drier cake and very sweet icing."

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