Decoding a delicious disguise

Masking and make-believe are essentials of Carnival, though I’ve never seen them applied so lavishly to a sandwich before I tried a king cake muffuletta.

This latest indulgence comes to us from Cottage Catering (1536 River Oaks Drive W., Harahan, 504-218-5655; coffeecottage.com, a king cake bakery and catering outfit run by John Caluda.

As the trend for more elaborate and conceptual king cakes rolls on, Caluda went a different direction. His muffuletta king cake and it’s companion piece, the crawfish king cake, aren’t cakes at all. Rather, they’re savory stuffed breads in masquerade, wearing the form and features of the king cake like costumes.

They are delicious, if a little disconcerting. Take the muffuletta version. You see a king cake ring (but it’s filled with Italian meats and olive salad), you see the frosting (but it’s melted provolone) and you even see the granular sugar in purple, green and gold (but that’s grated Romano mixed with food coloring). For the crawfish version, sour cream is piped across the motley surface like icing. It can mess with your palate, to say nothing of your head.

The creation story here involves Jazz Fest, where Caluda has been a food vendor for nearly 20 years. Crawfish strudel, a pastry encasing a creamy, peppery crawfish filling, is one of his Jazz Fest specialties, and to produce enough of them for the fest he gets an early start. One year when Mardi Gras fell particularly late, Caluda still had king cake dough on hand as he started making strudel. On a whim, he stuffed a king cake with the crawfish filling and the first hybrid was born.

It was a novelty that eventually cycled off his production list. But last year, Lesley Forynski joined Caluda’s company as catering manager, heard rumors of this wild creation from the old days and insisted it get another run. While they were at it, they gave the muffletta version a whirl too.

A few years ago, some hilarious Internet videos emerged showing the fictional “Ragusa brothers” pitching king cakes filled with salami and olive salad. That was satire. Caluda’s real-life creations are supper, or maybe the fodder for break room pranks. They’re also special orders, so call two days ahead to secure one.