Head for Bayou Bakery on Courthouse Road if you’re in the mood for Louisiana specialties. At this time of the year Chef David Guas, a New Orleans native, turns his talents to Mardi Gras with his restaurant becoming Mardi Gras headquarters with favorites like his famous award-winning King Cake made fresh daily.
The King Cake is filled with Bayou Bakery’s Creole cream cheese and cinnamon and finished with icing with hints of vanilla and lemon. Finally a sprinkle of the three traditional colors for Lent—gold for power, purple for justice and green for faith. Hidden inside the cake is a small plastic baby representing the baby Jesus, and the tradition is that the person who finds the baby in their piece of cake buys the next King Cake. Some say alternatively you get good luck.
The card inside each King Cake. explains, “King Cake is to Mardi Gras as pumpkin pie is to Thanksgiving—without it the holiday just wouldn’t be the same. Every table in every home, every cafeteria and lounge will be graced by a King Cake at some point between the Twelfth Night and on Jan. 6 and Fat Tuesday, when Lent begins.”
The Washington Post has proclaimed Guas’ King Cake as one of the five best in the country and the Local Palate also featured it as one of the best in the country. Guas appeared on the Today Show with Katie Couric demonstrating how to make your own King Cake with Pillsbury rolls arranged in a circle and a frosting and the three colors of sprinkles.
Guas says the current King Cake recipe at Bayou Bakery has been through a lot of iterations and is definitely a different style now than in his 2009 cookbook. This dough is laminate in the Danish family and made with all butter. It is rolled right tight with a thin line of Creole cream cheese to give it moisture. “It took lots of trial and error to find our happy place.”
The King Cakes from Guas’ childhood in New Orleans were mass produced and loaded with preservatives to make them last days and days and to ship all over. His King Cakes are made without preservatives, and a King Cake needs to be ordered in advance and can’t be shipped. But he sells thousands locally all over the Northern Virginia and Maryland area.
“I always try to have the bakers make ten to twelve more than contracted for so there are a few for walk-ins but they are gone by ten o’clock. That’s the way people are. They go ‘oh my God it’s Mardi Gras’ and they haven’t got their King Cake yet. We all do that.” It gets really busy the four days before Lent begins.
Guas says there are always people who come in after Lent begins and want to order the Mardi Gras specials. “I tell them we don’t do that in Louisiana, and some people are in shock. If we sold something with the gold, green and purple outside of Mardi Gras I tell them I would have to go to my local priest and confess.” He says this is part of the pride aspect of Louisiana —we all have something.
As a New Orleans native, Guas draws on the local recipes and tradition for his classics such as Gulf Shrimp Remoulade, Crawfish Étouffée and Smoked Sausage Gumbo. During the Mardi Gras season he adds specialty items to the menu such as tri-color cookies, Little K’s small King Cake donuts offered on Tuesdays and praline scones.
Currently plans are underway for the thirteenth year of his Bayou Gras Mardi Pardi to be held on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 13 from 6-9 pm and featuring jazz by NOLA native Nick Adde. There will be a special prize for best dressed, authentic parade food specials and Mardi Mix Hurricanes and King Cake Daiquiris. Tickets are on sale individually for brew, food and sweets. Each ticket is good for three in each category with featured Louisiana dishes on the menu.
During the year Guas is always experimenting by adding something new to his menu. In the last few years he put a new freezer inside the front door which he stocks with “provisions” such as gumbo and jambalaya that people can stop by and take home to heat up.
He reflects, “This is a small business but what keeps us going is when we see people order their first King Cake or experience their first beignet, dripping powdered sugar all over the table. These are the little bits of gold that keep you going. It’s very fulfilling and emotional. That part doesn’t get old.”