By Avery Werther
By Ash Wednesday each year, the “median New Orleanian [is] composed of 50% king cake dough,” says a recent viral graph from imgur.com. This satirical chart, titled “King Cake Consumption Over Time,” covers Mardi Gras season from Twelfth Night to Ash Wednesday, with critical reference points ranging from “Krewe du Vieux” to the “Nyx-Bacchus Zone” on the x-axis. The y-axis peaks at a simple single measure – “excessive.” Dipping and surging from points, such as “try ‘savory king cake’” and “Bywater friends provide locally-sourced free-range specialty king cakes,” this handy visual makes jibes at all the typical stops along the culinary parade route.
The graph, which was originally uploaded to imgur.com on January 18th before being shared on reddit.com by user MutantToenail from Marigny, clearly struck a chord with internet users familiar with Carnival culture. By its second day on reddit, it had accumulated 2,433 views and has since climbed to an impressive 5,909 (and counting). Scrolling through the comments on reddit, in which dozens of New Orleanians bicker about king cake controversies and swap insider tips, one can find user raptorbpw of Mid-City’s claim to the masterpiece: “I made this in Paint in like two minutes last year and it’s probably the greatest artistic achievement I’ll ever have… I shall have it engraved on my tomb: ‘Here lies the King Cake Chart Guy.’”
Adding expert weight to local opinion, owner Megan Forman of Gracious Bakery & Café confirms the chart’s accuracy from a king cake purveyor’s perspective. Gracious is a 3-year-old artisan bakery where everything is made from scratch; that means no mixes – only original formulas. In addition to long fermentation periods, high-quality water, and whole grains, they use unbleached, unbromated flour to give their breads the best possible flavors. Putting their unique spin on a classic French foundation, their year-round pastry selection can include anything from salted caramel croissants, which are laminated in-house, to breakfast pizzas on freshly baked ciabatta. Their specialties also include sandwich making, catering, and wholesaling to other local coffee shops and restaurants.
“Everyone’s got their own way of doing king cake,” says Forman, who was a pastry chef at Sucré before he opened Gracious Bakery, “So when we first opened, I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m doing king cake; what else am I going to add to the conversation?’ People who were selling products for me were like, ‘Well, you have to do king cake. I mean, you’re a bakery. You have to do it.’” Forman heeded this advice, to delicious and lucrative results. This year, Gracious featured king cakes in chocolate, satsuma, and Nutella-pretzel flavors, as well as an almond queen cake and the traditional French gallette des rois. “January is normally like a dead time for most bakeries in other places across the United States, but it’s so great for us from January 6th to Mardi Gras,” Forman adds. King cakes not only boosted sales at Gracious, but also earned them the 4th spot on New Orleans Eater’s heat map of “The Best New Orleans King Cakes 2016 – Freshly Updated.”
In accordance with the Twelfth Night “initial surge” indicated on the consumption graph, Forman states that, “January 6th is just crazy,” keeping the bakery extra busy with king cakes for the first week and a half of Mardi Gras season. Orders then slowed for several days, a trend also supported by the chart: “I saw on the graph where it was like ‘time to buy Rouses king cakes,’” Forman laughs, “And I was like, okay, I think that makes sense.” The chart again accurately intuits a rise accompanying the Krewe du Vieux parade, before which Forman saw sales make another jump. With parade season officially underway, Gracious continued to see a steady increase in king cake demand.
Even with its comments on “daily office king cake” and “king cake for breakfast,” Forman confirms that the graph tells no lies. In fact, these two points may overlap. On the way to work in the mornings, she says, “A lot of people come in for their office. They pick up a king cake, and they bring it for that.” Gracious also sold their king cakes by the slice, making them a perfect grab-and-go breakfast option for one and allowing patrons to easily sample each flavor.
Though the chart may not have been generated using any scientific formulas or professional data, its accuracy seems spot-on. With Forman’s insider affirmation and around 300 Mardi Gras seasons of king cake indulgence as proof, it is probably safe to place some faith in its predictive power in years to come. As for the median New Orleanian post-Carnival body composition in king cake dough – that remains a question for Ochsner.