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

Eat Play Stay Orlando: Sanford

On this episode of Eat Play Stay Orlando explore what’s new in the Northern part of town. Sanford has a plethora of breweries, bars, and delicious dining options to choose from.

Hometown Tragedy: The Pike County Massacre

On this episode of Hometown Tragedy: Missing in Milwaukee, we’ll explore what happened to Jerica Banks, her children, and how it impacted their community.

Six New Orleans parks that are perfect locations to celebrate 4th of July

Head to one of these six New Orleans parks to celebrate Independence Day in the city.

Cheap Date Orlando: Punk Rock & Pooches

Two Orlando couples shop vintage, search for the perfect slice, visit a post-apocalyptic saloon, and take the stage on blind dates in Orlando.

Fit and Fab: Free summer workouts in Boston

Cover photo courtesy Getty Images Looking to get fit for the summer? Still wary of COVID-19 or just looking for some sunshine while you sweat? Here are some Boston free summer workouts across the city so you can keep moving all season long! Seaport Sweat May 2 to Sept. 29 Boston’s biggest free workout series…

What’s On the Menu?: Farm-to-table

The farm-to-table movement brings locally grown foods to your plate. Not only will enjoying farm-to-table meals allow you to indulge in fresh, nutritional, seasonal dishes, but farm-to-table dining helps the environment and supports the local economy.  Check out these delicious farm-to-table restaurants in Greenville, South Carolina on the latest episode of What’s On the Menu?. …

A guide to some of the best Black-owned brunch spots in NOLA

Gather the crew together, make those reservations, and celebrate all things Black at brunch. 

A guide to Pittsburgh’s summer events must-do list

Check out our roundup below for the can’t-miss events happening in the city over the next few months.

Eat Play Stay Orlando: Tarpon Springs

In this episode of Eat Play Stay Orlando you’ll be transported to a thriving Greek community nestled on Florida’s gulf coast. From sponge diving to flaming cheese to a Greek bakery that supplies a ginormous amount of baklava to the entire country, you’re sure to fall in love with Greek culture in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Dorchester doughnuts that pack a paczki

These traditional Polish pastries are the real deal.

black owned brunch spots new orleans 14 parishes

A guide to some of the best Black-owned brunch spots in NOLA

Gather the crew together, make those reservations, and celebrate all things Black at brunch. 

Queen Trini Lisa’s Ascension to New Orleans’ Caribbean Soul Food Throne

Lisa Nelson didn’t plan on being a chef. She didn’t anticipate becoming a queen either, but true to the most beloved of royalty, the people made her one.

A grab-and-go food guide to the MSY New Orleans terminal

Time. Most of us don’t have a lot of that. Even less so when we’re rushing to make a flight. There are still plenty of tasty options for the less leisurely travelers among us, though it helps to know where to find them.

Chef Dee Lavigne expands the only Black-owned cooking school in New Orleans

Deelightful Roux School of Cooking is the only African American-owned cooking school taught by a New Orleans native, and her class is a guide to New Orleans’ food culture.