Drexel on the Road: Mardi Gras cake that’s fit for a King

Drexel on the Road

PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — The oldest bakery in Pensacola and one of the oldest Mardi Gras traditions are coming together in a delicious way in the season of Carnival. J’s Bakery has been in Pensacola since 1946. Pensacola native Ryan Thomas grew up eating sweet treats in the bakery.

“My grandmother lived five blocks from here. When I was a kid, I’d get off the bus at her house. She’d give me a dollar and tell me to go to J’s for some treats. I’d jump on my bike and ride up here,” says Thomas.

Three years ago, he bought the place, in part because of the nostalgia he feels for the business.

“I remember pressing my face against the glass waiting my turn as a kid.”

J’s will get its own birthday cake next year… with 75 candles. The milestone will no doubt be marked by customers who, like Thomas, came here as a child and now come back with their own children and grandchildren. That’s why Thomas says it was important to also acquire the original pastry recipes.

“All these generations that keep coming back… they’re sharing the same flavors they grew up with. The flavors are the same as they were way back then,” says Thomas.

One of those flavors is popular in Carnival Season. It’s the Mardi Gras King Cake. What makes it special?

“The magic is in the process,” says Thomas with a smile.

We headed to the kitchen in search of the magic and met up with baker LaTanya Doubout. A New Orleans native, Doubout has been making King Cakes since she was 17. She’s worked in a number of French Quarter restaurants and she knows King Cake!

“The tradition goes back to the 1800s,” Doubout said. “It marks the coming of the three kings to who gave gifts to the baby Jesus.”

Because the cakes are handmade, each one looks a little different.

“That’s how you know it’s homemade from scratch,” smiles Doubout as she carefully kneads, and then rolls out, the dough.

King cakes used to be baked with a bean or a ring inside and whoever found it was “king for a day.” These days, a plastic baby is either baked inside, or put in after the baking process, and whoever gets it is said to have found favor. Some traditions say whoever finds the baby has to buy the next king cake.

“The colors of the cake are significant,” Doubout said. “Purple is for justice, gold is for power and green is for justice,”

Doubout took us through the baking process which involves braiding the dough once has been through the rising process. Then mounds of purple, gold and green sugar are sprinkled on top. The cake is baked then doused with a delightful sugar-laden frosting.

Is it good? Let’s just say it’s a cake that is fit for a king. For more information on J’s Bakery and Café, visit their website.

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