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King cakes

Ramona King

Cinnamon-swirl king cake (right) and easy almond king cake (left)


Two totally different ways to make colorful, festive king cake at home

We've got one week left until Fat Tuesday, so it's time to get serious about everything you'll want to eat between now and then. The most important decision to make (at least in our view):  What kind of king cake shall you eat?

There are as many different flavors and styles of king cake as there are beads in a Mardi Gras parade, so you should never feel limited by whatever you've heard is the "correct" form of the cake. At Southern Kitchen, we've found two particular stand-outs if you need some help. Feel free to go crazy with colored sugar, no matter which cake you choose.

Cinnamon-Swirl King Cake
Brioche dough and cinnamon-sugar are rolled up, twisted and baked into this brilliantly-striped and not-too-sweet king cake. It's especially great when eaten warm and straight out of the oven for breakfast, but you can certainly hold the cake until an afternoon or evening party. Hide a few slices in a bag to carry to a parade for sustenance — it won't flake and crumble like pastry-based cakes. If you're game to experiment, you can change up the filling ingredients to suit your preferences. Play around with different spices, or stir in dried fruit and/or citrus zest. The world is your oyster, er, cake. Just don't forget the plastic baby!
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Easy Almond King Cake
On the other hand, if you can't eat king cake without craving a big rush of sugar, look no further than this easy pastry-and-almond king cake made with store-bought puff. If you'd like to make your version ultra-Southern, consider swapping out the traditional almonds for pecans and the rum for bourbon. (Because you can never have too much bourbon.) You can leave it bronzed and golden-brown, or drizzle the top with a quick but thick powdered sugar glaze. A heavy hand with colored sugar really takes the cake over the top. Word to the wise, though, this cake is ultra-flaky, so plan to eat it around a table or at least with a passel of napkins (and maybe a bib).
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Photo (Cinnamon Swirl King Cake): Kate Williams
Photo (Almond King Cake): Ramona King

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Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”

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Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.