What is a king cake? Not by a dictionary definition, but in a common knowledge way. It reminds me of the classic phrase "I know it when I see it". The phrase became part of American history in 1964 when the  United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used it to describe his personal threshold test for obscenity in the Jacobellis v. Ohio case. Then, Justice Stewart was using the phrase to define pornography, but we're going to apply it now to king cake.

King cake is king cake when I see it...right? Or are we going to shackle ourselves to a textbook definition of the pastry?

I hope we're not trying to use some firm definition for king cake, because the style that many of the commenters online are trying to assert doesn't fit with history. Read some of the comments here, then we'll talk below:

This Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup King Cake comes from Bourque's Specialties in Lafayette. They make a ton of other clever and unique types of king cakes. Their creations make noise online every year.

But when these unique king cakes go viral online, the comments on the posts aren't unified in excitement. There are always commenters claiming that if the king cake doesn't have purple/green/gold on top, it's not a king cake. Or claiming that king cakes can't have peanut butter involved. There are also a lot of comments that don't explain why the commentor doesn't think it's king cake, they just say its not.

But this all made me realize, many who believe they're "king cake experts" don't actually know the history of the treat. Because the version of king cakes they're claiming are the "true" form, isn't the true form. King cakes featuring colors like green, purple, or gold didn't show up until the last 100 years. Since king cakes date back to the 3rd century, its unlikely that the oval circles with sugar and purple food coloring you know today was the original king cake.

In fact, there are still people making some of the original forms of king cakes. Below is a video of a chef creating the style of king cake that is common in  France, Quebec, Luxembourg and Belgium. Spoiler alert, it looks nothing like the king cake we see today...

In fact, there are TONS of different kinds of king cake, and they all look different. There is gâteau des rois, Roscón de Reyes, Portuguese Bolo Rei, and Dreikönigskuchen. Check out some of those styles...

So next time you see a king cake that doesn't look exactly as you expect, don't write it off immediately.

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