Mardi Gras is a celebration that offers something for everyone. Whether you like drinking too much, housing a po’boy, or trying new sweet treats, Mardi Gras is the perfect occasion for a little overindulgence.
While paczki have traditionally ruled the roost in Pittsburgh-area Fat Tuesday celebrations, New Orleans likes to celebrate with the delectable king cake. The most traditional king cakes have three things in common: cinnamon filling, colorful icing, and a baby hidden inside. That’s right—there’s a small plastic baby tucked into the cake! Whoever finds the baby in their slice is on the hook for the next king cake purchase.
King cakes vary depending on the bakery. Sometimes the cinnamon filling is replaced with cream cheese, praline, or berry jam; some bakeries make their king cakes with sprinkles or more elaborate icing. Though king cakes are almost always formed into a circle, some bakeries braid or twist theirs for added detail.
For those yinzers hungry for a taste of the Big Easy, Very Local went out in search of Greater Pittsburgh’s finest king cakes. We ended up trying king cakes from three different local bakeries so you and your krewe can find the best king cake for your festivities. Each was tasty in a different way. Get your beads and read on for our findings!
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Local baked-goods mecca Oakmont Bakery offers king cakes in traditional cinnamon, cream cheese, praline, and raspberry, as well as mini cinnamon king cakes and other Mardi Gras goodies. For a very limited few days, you can also order a savory king cake for a more umami Fat Tuesday.
King cakes usually come in festive boxes that often explain some of the Mardi Gras traditions associated with the dessert. The name of the cake itself is derived from the Magi or Three Kings of Christmas fame. A “message from the three kings” unpacks this religious connection further.
Oakmont Bakery’s king cake itself was slathered in festive cream cheese dressing. The cake was moist and dense, with a nice swirl of cinnamon running through it. To avoid an unpleasant surprise, the plastic baby is left out for you to put into the cake yourself.
Some slices were thicker than others, but each bite was rich and rewarding. If you have less of a sweet tooth than we did, you might find the icing to be a bit heavy—though delicious, it was very thick. This could be a lagniappe, as the Cajuns say, but could be a bit overwhelming if you’re just enjoying a small slice for breakfast.
Overall, Oakmont Bakery made a great impression with a festive-looking and traditional style and nice mouthfuls of sweet dough and cinnamon. This was a great king cake for those looking for a straight-down-the-middle New Orleans treat smothered in sugary goodness. We’re awarding Oakmont Bakery most traditional king cake for checking all the boxes.
Located north of the ‘Burgh in charming downtown Beaver, Kretchmar’s is a traditional bakery with a wide range of delectable goods. The shop is currently being renovated to better serve customers, but that hasn’t stopped Kretchmar’s from churning out donuts, pączki, custom cakes, and much more.
Kretchmar’s king cake was dazzling and delicious. Festooned with bright beads and colorful sprinkles and braided into a festive wreath, this cake looked as fun and sweet as it tasted. Kretchmar’s, notably, doesn’t offer a cinnamon king cake. Instead, they offer a cream cheese or nut filling (we opted for cream cheese). Kretchmar’s king cake also differs in hiding a chocolate coin rather than a plastic baby for an additional sweet treat with no strings attached!
Though the cream cheese filling was maybe a little thin in places, Kretchmar’s dough was the best of the three cakes we tried, with a golden color and delightfully soft brioche texture. The dressing and sprinkles added sweetness and crunch—overall, the first impression this cake made was of a delicious, gigantic donut.
Though it wasn’t the most traditional, New Orleans-style cake, Very Local came away very satisfied with Kretchmar’s confection. We award Kretchmar’s king cake the most decadent for its excellent texture and sweetness.
Prantl’s is widely known throughout Pittsburgh for their inimitable burnt almond torte, but they also serve a wide variety of pastries and craft king cakes filled with cinnamon, strawberry, or nut filling.
Prantl’s king cake was dressed for success in frosting, sugar sprinkles in traditional New Orleans green, purple, and gold; and the obligatory beads, coins, and plastic baby. Their dough was probably the most bread-like and was rolled into the most perfect oval of any of the three cakes we tried. This meant each piece had a nice cinnamon swirl running evenly to the center, and the icing was just right, with a nice bonus crunch from the sugar sprinkles.
The flavor of Prantl’s cake was spot on, but the downside of the bread-like dough was that it ended up a little dry. Overall, it was tasty and enjoyable, but we were left wondering if the strawberry filling option might have softened this bad boy up. The silver lining is that this made a perfect treat to accompany morning coffee—we thought Prantl’s king cake was the best breakfast of the three.
Whatever you like the most in a king cake, Pittsburgh-area bakeries are here to help you celebrate with a full tummy. Order yours soon to get it in time for Mardi Gras—maybe you’ll be the lucky one who finds the baby?
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