Every Carnival season sends me scurrying between the old and the new, with my love of the classics and a keen curiosity for what new creations are making their debut.
This season I have my eye on a harvest of new bakeries, including two with opening dates still coming down to the wire as I write this.
Bearcat Baked (726 Julia St., 504-513-4994) opened in December in the Warehouse District, as the bakery café and coffee program from Bearcat Café (845 Carondelet), which has one of its wildly popular restaurants locations just around the corner.
This finally gives baker Cat Colby-Pariseau a dedicated home base. That means she can ramp up a production of the marvelous, if very unconventional, churros king cake she has made for the past few seasons in makeshift space at the restaurant.
This essentially bends the idea of churros (those sticks of fried pastry dough) into a king cake shape, with cinnamon and sugar and ridges of crunch that are a joy to untangle.
This new bake shop is from Martha Gilreath, who has made her mark with king cakes at pop-ups and through King Cake Hub.
Her king cake is a classically beauty, one inspired by the McKenzie’s classic in texture and form, and adds a gentle twist of citrus with orange blossom water and satsuma zest. Nolita's king cakes are also available at King Cake Hub this year.
This is the first standalone location for Jeremy Fogg, former pastry chef at Emeril’s who started this brand pop-up style in the pandemic. He has a unique riff on king cake I tried last season.
It's king cake monkey bread, with the quilted warmth, crunchy top and a soft interior of monkey bread. It all pulls apart into pillowy, aromatic puffs of dough, just like monkey bread should. Mae's takes pre-orders for its king cake here.
Across the river in Gretna, Dough Nguyener’s (433 Lafayette St., Gretna, 504-581-8255) has already established itself as a king cake brand over the past few seasons; this will be the first with its own bakery café as a dedicated production facility and retail spot.
Last year, this Vietnamese bakery introduced a king cake called the Parisian, which is made from croissant dough and bears a more-than-passing resemblance to the much sought-after Dong Phuong king cake. This one, though, gets a filling based on ca phe sua da, the Vietnamese iced coffee.
As ever though in Carnival, sometimes the highlights of the season are what you never saw coming, that surprise waiting around the corner. So I’ll have my eyes peeled and my sugary paws ready.
At the same time, a parallel joy of Mardi Gras is enduring tradition, and the old school styles will have plenty of room at the party too.