It’s time for king cake, baby

Photo by Elsa Hahne --  Twenty king cakes will vie for top honors at the King Cake festival Sunday at Champions Square.
Photo by Elsa Hahne -- Twenty king cakes will vie for top honors at the King Cake festival Sunday at Champions Square.

Bakers from across the greater New Orleans area will be cutting up this Sunday at the first King Cake Festival, held at Champions Square to benefit, appropriately enough, the pediatric and neonatal departments of Ochsner Medical Center.

The square by the Superdome will be filled with king cake connoisseurs, novices and everyone in between as they reignite the debate over who makes the best king cake in town.

And 20 bakeries will produce their signature cakes.

“Each king cake vendor will submit one king cake for the People’s Choice vote, and in addition to that, each baker can choose to enter into subcategories — the best filled cake, best savory cake, best nontraditional, best baby, and so on,” said Kathleen McCullen, philanthropy department director of events at Ochsner Medical Center, which is sponsoring the event.

Kelly Boffone, owner of PeaceBaker in Kenner, is entering the nontraditional category with her cinnamon sugar king cake.

“Our king cake is gluten free, dairy free, yeast free, soy free and kosher,” Boffone said. “Because they are not yeast raised, they are sweet and moist, like a yummy cinnamon cake — we use coconut yogurt, a brown rice flour, tapioca and potato starch.”

Instead of a baby, “We actually stick a peace sign ring inside the king cake,” Boffone said.

Having already made 600 king cakes this Carnival season, Boffone does not expect the demand to ease off.

“When you can’t eat gluten or dairy, this king cake gives you that king cake fix,” Boffone said.

Fest-goers can purchase 10 tickets for $10 to taste and vote for the People’s Choice. Winners will be announced at 4.30 p.m.

“Besides the actual award (the bakers) get to display in their shop, it is also the accolade of winning that award and the promotion,” McCullen said.

And for those who can’t wait until Sunday to get a taste of the cakes, Ochsner is hosting a preview party at the Benson Towers on Saturday, Feb. 8 for $75 which includes food, drinks and king cake tasting.

“The preview party will overlook Champions Square, so we can watch everything get set up for the actual festival, and a lot of the bakeries are giving the guest a little taste of what they will be entering into the People’s Choice the following day,” McCullen said.

The festival gets rolling on Sunday with a one-mile Stroller Fun-Run starting at 10 a.m. Registration is $20, which includes a T-shirt.

“The one-mile fun-run will go up and down the ramps of the Superdome ... participants are going to get judged on their decorated strollers and costumes,” McCullen said.

The day is jam-packed with nonstop entertainment: live music, food trucks, kids’ zone with author readings, a cake maze and arts and crafts.

In celebrating the dessert of Mardi Gras, Ochsner plans to make the king cake fest an annual fundraiser for the hospital’s neonatal and pediatric departments.

“One of our administrators wanted to help raise funds for the neonatal department, and being new to south Louisiana and all the festivals, she asked, ‘Where is the king cake festival?’ and when there wasn’t one, we realized this was it. Let’s raise money for the babies,” McCullen said.