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Ready for King’s Day

Employees at Paul’s Pastry have king cakes decorated and ready to be shipped across the country.  Photo by Alexandra Hedrick

Employees at Paul’s Pastry have king cakes decorated and ready to be shipped across the country.
Photo by Alexandra Hedrick

The Feast of Epiphany, or King’s Day, which celebrates the wise men bearing gifts to the Christ Child, marks the start of carnival season every year. It also kicks off the king cake season for bakeries across the south.

The history of the king cake is long and complicated, depending on the region of the country. Paul’s Pastry is a part of the southern king cake history.

In 1972, Paul’s Pastry was the first bakery to add cream cheese filling to the cakes, said owner Sherri Thigpen.

Thigpen describes the bakery’s cake as a “sweet, dough bread.” She said the king cakes in New Orleans are an “airy, Danish dough.”

“The reason we do it like that is because the way that we fill our king cakes from the inside,” Thigpen said. “It has to be able to hold it without tearing the bread.”

Through trial and error, Thigpen said her mother found a recipe that would hold the filling.

“We didn’t know any better. We were from California, but people talked about them,” Thigpen said.

Now the king cake business has evolved into shipping the king cakes to any of the 50 states and delivery to more than 43 locations along the coast and into Huntsville, Ala.

This year, Thigpen said, Paul’s will work with a company to have their king cakes delivered to a chain of grocery stores in Chicago and Minnesota.

She expects Paul’s will make between 70-75,000 king cakes this carnival season.

Thigpen said the bakery hires more people for carnival season every year, but it’s usually the same people who will come back year after year.

“You work hard; you’re on your feet and you work long hours sometimes. It’s tense, but it’s fun,” Thigpen said.

She said the number of combinations is endless based on what the customer wants to order, but there are about 40 flavors to choose from. Thigpen also said she likes to remind customers that Paul’s does bake the plastic baby into the king cake.