Appreciating the multicolored delights of the small glazed counter of blue dot donutsowner Zach Foster has acknowledged that his royal cake donuts are basically donuts “dressed like a royal cake”, with purple, green, and yellow frosting on top.
But then there’s the donut king cake, and it’s a different animal.
King cake donut versus king cake donut – it’s not just a matter of semantics. The donut king cake is a king cake made like a donut, rather than a donut decorated like a king cake. It merges the appeals of donut and royal cake, creating a treat that is familiar on both counts and yet something all its own.
At Blue Dot (4301 Canal St., 504-218-4866) in Mid-City, Foster starts with donut dough, rolls it in cinnamon, and braids it into a royal cake shape. Then he fry it and glaze it like a donut. The result is a fluffy, airy interior under a sweet, fried rim. And yes, there is a plastic baby for the ride.
“If I was going to make a donut king cake, I was really going to make it a king cake,” Wood said.
The Kingcake Kingdom is so vast during carnival season that it has room for its own sub-regions and specialized niches. One is the donut shop.
In an age when you can find royal cake everywhere, from high-end restaurant dessert menus to airport gift shops, the donut shop still feels like the natural habitat of royal cake – old school, accessible, down to earth.
After all, generations of New Orleans can trace their formative memories of royal cake to McKenzie Patisseries, which once had outposts in the area and which, essentially, doubled as neighborhood donut shops. The king cake has a lot more traditions and symbolism than a donut. But when you place a royal cake in an office break room or on a kitchen table, it fulfills the same role as the box of donuts you might pick up in the morning.
Turns out donut shops have mastered the royal cake game, too.
Many donut shops prepare king cake along traditional lines, starting with the baked brioche. Some of these stores double as restaurants and operate around the clock, at least opening up the possibility of round-the-clock access to the royal cake.
Various Joe’s Café & Donuts and Gerald’s Donuts locations provide many examples around town, as does Butter Krisp Diner in Covington. Another is the local brand Coffee &.
When I entered the Marrero location from Coffee & (5024 West Bank Expressway, 504-328-9494), it was during a lunch rush with the tables and counters full, shelves of donuts coming out of the kitchen and tall piles of royal cakes, both stuffed and traditional, on loan.
The traditional version was generously laced with cinnamon and covered in purple, green, and yellow sugar between strips of frosting. He also demonstrated another common characteristic of donut shop king cakes – value. This one was a big desk sized cake for under $16.
Kings cake with a twist
At Little J’s Donuts in Harahan (1301 Hickory Ave., 504-470-2623), Josh Dean turned heads during the Super Bowl era for a donut king cake tribute to Joe Burrow, who had the colors of the Bengals of Cincinnati on the outside and the colors of the LSU Tiger on the inside.
They sold out quickly. But this version of the Super Bowl was based on a style that Dean produces every day during carnival season that is jaw-dropping in itself.
This is a donut king cake – fried and heavily glazed. Inside, the paste reveals a swirl of purple, green and gold, reminiscent of tie-dye. Dean does this by dyeing and braiding three separate strands of donut dough.
“My only problem is that I’m a donut shop — I can’t really do huge quantities, big production,” Dean said, speaking of the small kitchen that supplies his dinner menu and donut case. “But people love it and it’s spreading.”
Little J’s isn’t open 24 hours at the moment, but the restaurant keeps an unorthodox schedule – open from 10 p.m. to 2 p.m. the next day. This way, it can serve people working second and third shifts in warehouses and other nearby facilities. It also means you can score a hot fryer donut king cake in the wee hours of the morning. This is exactly the kind of need that can arise during Carnival.
Contemporary and classic
Even the “regular” local brand donuts Neighborhood donuts. Cursors. Brew. are elaborate and beautifully crafted, like individual cakes. So it stands to reason that his king cake is also distinctive.
The brand creates different ones each season, and this year is a masterpiece of croissant-like texture, crunchy ridges, and balanced flavor. It is made with puff pastry, like a Danish, and baked. But the outside is so crispy it tastes like it’s fried. The version I tried was topped with a creamy almond filling, like something one would expect more from a pastry shop than a donut shop.
Of course, McKenzie’s name is still with us. After the original company closed for good in 2001, Tastee Donuts purchased the trade name and recipes and produces McKenzie products to this day. At the Lakeview location (901 Harrison Ave., 504-483-9080), next to McKenzie’s traditional cakes, I found a donut king cake, all fried and heavily glazed and looking like a cruel shaped of ring.
Most impressive was the sugar-colored mountain range, the summit more or less belted in place with squiggles of thick white icing. This donut king cake crackles when you slice it and crunches like rock candy when you bite into it.
All of this perhaps begs the common question of how far kingcakes can stray from tradition and retain the title of kingcake. But the final takeaway for me was the gleeful response I received from friends every time I opened a box to reveal a donut king cake. It is, after all, the spirit of the season.