Watch Us In Your Living Room
Enjoy Very Local on the big screen.
Visit your favorite app store to download.

A big book of king cakes? Your guide is here.

Matt Haines’ 368-page book covers 75 bakeries and king cakes.

by Marielle Songy
November 30, 2021

Matt Haines has always had an obsession with King Cake. It all started in 2007 during an exceptionally long Carnival season. Haines wanted to try as many different king cakes as possible, so he began sampling as many as he could. He even checked online lists to ensure that there wasn’t any king cake he would miss.

How the big book came about

“I created a spreadsheet to plot out what my choices were, and it became a list of over 100 king cakes pretty quickly,” Haines said. “I was blown away by how many different varieties of king cake there were.”

He thought it would be fun to go on a king cake adventure, so he ate a few different slices of cake each day throughout Carnival. When all was said and done, Haines had consumed 88 slices of king cake that season.

When Haines became a writer, he used his knowledge to write articles about the seasonal dessert, and found that they were consistently popular with his readers. Then, during the pandemic, Haines noticed a heightened interest in king cake and its tradition, so he thought he would write a book about it.

He explained, “In February, I wondered about the last time someone wrote a book about king cake. I looked online, and I couldn’t believe that the only books about king cake were short-story children’s books.”

Haines wanted to change that, so he set out to photograph a wide variety of king cakes and write about 75 bakeries that make them for his coffee table book, The Big Book of King Cake, now available for pre-order from Amazon, Bookshop.org, Matt’s website and local bookshops.  For Haines, putting the book together was a lot of work, but it was also fun.

MORE: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – An interactive king cake guide

“King cakes are so beautiful, and there’s such a variety and history to them,” he said. “They are such a big part of what New Orleans is, especially during Carnival.”

Haines’ 368-page book contains beautiful color photos by photographer Randy Krauss Schmidt and tells the story of king cake’s history throughout the years. Accompanying essays include information about the bakeries that make king Cakes, their connection to the dessert, and their own traditions surrounding it.

“The book is not only about the cakes, but it’s about the bakers,” Haines explained. “It’s a celebration of Louisiana’s bakers, their creativity, and their diversity. They all bring their own versions and flavors of what king cake can be.”

The history of king cake

Haines explained the cake has thousands of years of history that dates back to the pre-Roman empire. He wanted to tell the story of how king cake spread across Europe, how it found its way to Louisiana, and how the confection evolved since it got here. The book includes a section called “International Cousins” that shows what the tradition looked like in other parts of the world such as Switzerland, Southern Germany, Northern and Southern France, Greece, and Bulgaria.

“King cakes in other parts of the world are different, but you can see their similarities,” Haines said. “You can see the connecting thread from one type of king cake to another.”

In The Big Book of King Cake, Haines writes about the traditions connected to king cake, when it’s traditionally enjoyed, and the trend of off-season king cake.

He explained, “I wanted to get into all of the different debates about New Orleans food and tradition. I spoke to bakers who believe you should only have king cake from January 6 to Fat Tuesday. Other bakers say that you can enjoy king cake all year—whatever makes you happy.”

MORE: Here are the zany, unique king cakes to try in each neighborhood

Haines also includes a historical perspective on the tradition.

“In many countries, the cake was only enjoyed on Twelfth Night,” he said. “King cake was meant to celebrate the end of the Christmas season. Slowly over time, largely because of king cake parties, the cake branched out into the rest of Carnival season. Now it’s seen as something that ushers in the Carnival season. The book explores how these traditions have evolved.”

Where to buy The Big Book of King Cake

The Big Book of King Cake can be pre-ordered from Amazon, Bookshop.org, Matt’s website and local bookshops, and the book will be available in select stores just before Thanksgiving.

Marielle was born and raised in New Orleans. She thinks it's hard to grow up there and not let the culture and history of the city become part of you. Whether it be the jazz, food, of fabulous architecture, she thinks most would agree that things are a little spicer down here. You can reach her via email at [email protected]

More Local Stories

Looking for a Dong Phuong king cake but can’t get to the East? Here’s a list of places that have them.

Live on the Westbank but still want to get a Dong Phuong king cake? No worries.

Handmade Halloween: Making your own costume is half of the fun

There are plenty of resources for your own DIY costume, and it won’t be the cheesy pom-pom gumball machine either.

King cake flavored everything: is king cake flavor the new pumpkin spice?

Here’s a list of how your can get your King Cake fix if bread isn’t acceptable in your New Year’s diet.

A guide to Christmas bar pop-ups in New Orleans

It wouldn’t be Christmas in New Orleans without a few magical cocktails and bar experiences to match! Here’s our guide to drinking your way into the holiday spirit this season.

A guide to Christmas bar pop-ups in New Orleans

It wouldn’t be Christmas in New Orleans without a few magical cocktails and bar experiences to match! Here’s our guide to drinking your way into the holiday spirit this season.

Top 5-04: Locally made coloring books

No matter your age, coloring books are sure to inspire your creativity.

The Ultimate Guide to Celebrating the 2021 Holiday Season in NOLA

From Celebration in the Oaks to Luna Fete and Reveillon, here are our favorite ways to celebrate the season.

How King Cake Hub became the one-stop-shop for king cakes

Despite moving around the city and the death of one of its founders, the Hub continues being the only place you can get king cake from different bakeries under one roof.

20 Places to Enjoy a Safe and Very Merry Réveillon in 2021!

Obviously there’s some hesitancy by many to eat inside restaurants at the moment, so I did some research to find out which restaurants were available for take-out, outdoor seating or both! This way you can each this longtime tradition without putting yourself at more risk than you’re comfortable with. 

Where to Find Relics from New Orleans’ 1984 World’s Fair

The 1984 World’s Fair provided cherished memories for a generation of New Orleanians, but it also helped transform our city.

Looking for a Dong Phuong king cake but can’t get to the East? Here’s a list of places that have them.

Live on the Westbank but still want to get a Dong Phuong king cake? No worries.

Handmade Halloween: Making your own costume is half of the fun

There are plenty of resources for your own DIY costume, and it won’t be the cheesy pom-pom gumball machine either.

King cake flavored everything: is king cake flavor the new pumpkin spice?

Here’s a list of how your can get your King Cake fix if bread isn’t acceptable in your New Year’s diet.

A guide to Christmas bar pop-ups in New Orleans

It wouldn’t be Christmas in New Orleans without a few magical cocktails and bar experiences to match! Here’s our guide to drinking your way into the holiday spirit this season.