Mardi Gras
February 24, 2004
New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau
(504) 566-5011

Future Mardi Gras Dates:

2005 February 8 2013 February 12
2006 February 28 2014 March 4
2007 February 20 2015 February 17
2008 February 5 2016 February 9
2009 February 24 2017 February 28
2010 February 16 2018 February 13
2011 March 8 2019 March 5
2012 February 21 2020 February 25

Throw Me Something, Mister...

Mardi Gras History
  • The foundation of Mardi Gras was started long before the French. Some historians see a relationship to the ancient fertility rituals performed to welcome the coming of Spring, a time of rebirth. One possible early version of the Mardi Gras festival was the Lupercalia. This was a celebration around mid-February in Rome. The early Church leaders diverted the pagan practices toward a more Christian focus.

  • The name Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday in French. The day is known as Fat Tuesday, since it is the last day before Lent. Lent is the season of prayer and fasting observed by the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations during the forty days and seven Sundays before Easter Sunday. Easter can be on any Sunday from March 23 to April 25, since the exact day is set to coincide with the first Sunday after the full moon following the Spring Equinox. Mardi Gras occurs on any Tuesday from February 3 through March 9. The Gregorian calendar, setup by the Catholic Church, determines the exact day for Mardi Gras.

  • The celebration started in New Orleans around the seventeenth century, when Jean Baptiste LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville, and Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur de Iberville founded the city. In 1699, the group set up camp 60 miles south of the present location of New Orleans on the river's West Bank. They named the site Point du Mardi Gras in recognition of the major French holiday happening on that day, March 3. The late 1700's, saw pre-Lenten balls and fetes in the infant New Orleans. The masked balls continued until the Spanish government took over and banned the events. The ban even continued after New Orleans became an American city in 1803. Eventually, the predominant Creole population revitalized the balls by 1823. Within the next four years, street masking was legalized.

  • The early Mardi Gras consisted of citizens wearing masks on foot, in carriages, and on horseback. The first documented parade in 1837 was made of a costumed revelers. The Carnival season eventually became so wild that the authorities banned street masking by the late 1830's. This was an attempt to control the civil disorder arising from this annual celebration.

  • This ban didn't stop the hard core celebrators. By the 1840's, a strong desire to ban all public celebrations was growing. Luckly, six young men from Mobile saved Mardi Gras. These men had been members of the Cowbellians, a group that performed New Years Eve parades in Mobile since 1831. The six men established the Mystick Krewe of Comus, which put together the first New Orleans Carnival parade on the evening of Mardi Gras in 1857. The parade consisted of two mule-driven floats. This promoted others to join in on this new addition to Mardi Gras. Unfortunately, the Civil War caused the celebration to loose some of its magic and public observance. The magic returned along with several other new krewes after the war.
  • Mardi Gras Web Sites
    123 Greetings - Mardi Gras
    Amberle's Mardi Gras Tidbits
    Carnival New Orleans
    Chip's Mardi Gras Links
    Fat Tuesday
    Jester's Mardi Gras
    Mardi Gras Central
    Mardi Gras Page
    Mardi Gras Guide

    Zymondo New Orleans Resources

    History of King Cakes

         In European countries, the coming of the wisemen bearing gifts to the Christ Child is celebrated twelve days after Christmas. The celebration, called Epiphany, Little Christmas on the Twelfth Night,is a time of exchanging gifts and feasting. All over the world people gather for the festive Twelfth Night celebrations. One of the most popular customs is still the baking of a special cake in honor of the three kings... "A King's Cake." Tradition has now evolved through time to obligate the person who receives the baby (inside every King Cake) to continue the festivities by hosting another king cake party.
        King Cakes were originally a simple ring of dough with little decoration. We have developed our own special recipe as a signature item to become "The King" of King Cakes. The King Cake is made with a rich Danish dough, baked and covered wth a poured sugar topping and decorated with the traditional Mardi Gras-colored sugars (also available with flavored fillings). The end result is a delicious and festive cake in traditional Rex colors: Purple, representing justice; Green representing faith; Gold representing Power. Hundreds of thousands of King Cakes are consumed at parties every year, making the King Cake another fine Louisiana tradition. In fact, a Mardi Gras party wouldn't be a Mardi Gras party without a King Cake. 

    King Cake Traditional New Orleans Recipe

    Ingredients      1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)      2 packages active dry yeast      1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar      3 1/2 - 4 1/2 cups flour unsifted      1 teaspoon nutmeg      2 teaspoons salt      1 teaspoon lemon zest      1/2 cup warm milk      5 egg yolks      1 stick butter cut into slices and softened,        plus 2 tablespoons more softened butter      1 egg slightly beaten with 1 tablespoon milk      1 teaspoon cinnamon      1 1" plastic baby doll Directions 

    Pour the warm water into a small shallow bowl, and sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar into it. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for three minutes then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm place, for ten minutes or until yeast bubbles up and mixture almost doubles up in volume. Combine 3 1/2 cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt, and sift into a large mixing bowl. Stir in lemon zest. Separate center of mixture to form a hole and pour in yeast mixture and milk. Add egg yolks and using a wooden spoon slowly combine dry ingredients into the yeast/milk mixture. When mixture is smooth, beat in 8 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time and continue to beat 2 minutes or until dough can be formed into a medium soft ball.

    Place ball of dough on a lightly floured surface and knead like bread. During this kneading, add up to 1 cup more of flour (1 tablespoon at a time) sprinkled over the dough. When dough is no longer sticky, knead 10 minutes more until shiny and elastic. Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of a large bowl evenly with one tablespoon softened butter. Place dough ball in the bowl and rotate until the entire surface is buttered. Cover bowl with a moderately thick kitchen towel and place in a draft free spot for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in volume. Using a pastry brush, coat a large baking sheet with one tablespoon of butter and set aside.

    Remove dough from bowl and place on lightly floured surface. Using you fist, punch dough down with a heavy blow. Sprinkle cinnamon over the top, pat and shake dough into a cylinder. Twist dough to form a curled cylinder and loop cylinder onto the buttered baking sheet. Pinch the ends together to complete the circle. Cover dough with towel and set it in draft free spot for 45 minutes until the circle of dough doubles in volume. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

    Brush top and sides of cake with egg wash and bake on middle rack of oven for 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Place cake on wire rack to cool. If desired, at this time, you can "hide" the plastic baby in the cake.

    Colored sugars 
    Green, purple, & yellow paste 12 tablespoons sugar

    Squeeze a dot of green paste in palm of hand. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over the paste and rub together quickly. Place this mixture on wax paper and wash hands to remove color. Repeat process for other 2 colors. Place aside.

    Icing      3 cups confectioners sugar      1/4 cup lemon juice      3 - 6 tablespoons water 

    Combine sugar, lemon juice and 3 tablespoons water until smooth. If icing is too stiff, add more water until spreadable. Spread icing over top of cake. Immediately sprinkle the colored sugars in individual rows consisting of about 2 rows of green, purple and yellow.

    Cake is served in 2" - 3" pieces.

    KING CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE AND FRUIT FILLING

    BASIC KING CAKE1 envelope dry yeast1/4 cup warm water1/2 cup milk1 cup (2 sticks) butter1/2 cup sugar2 egg yolks2 whole eggs4 cups, approximately, unbleached flour 

    Mix the yeast with the warm water. Stir 1 teaspoon of the sugar and 1 teaspoon of the flour into the yeast and set aside. By the time you have measured the other ingredients, the yeast should be beginning to bubble and show signs of life.

    Bring the milk to a boil and stir in the butter and the sugar. Pour into a large bowl; the mixture should be lukewarm. Beat in the egg yolks, whole eggs and the yeast.

    Beat in approximately 2 cups of flour, until the dough is fairly smooth, then gradually add enough additional flour to make a soft dough that you can form into a ball. Knead it, by hand or machine, until smooth and elastic. Lightly oil a bowl, turn the dough once or twice in it to grease it lightly all over, cover with a cloth and leave to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

    Pat the dough down and cover the bowl with a damp towel, plastic film over that and refrigerate until the next day. This recipe makes enough dough for two king cakes. Extra dough may be frozen, or make two king cakes and freeze one. Thaw frozen cake and reheat 10 minutes in a 375-degree oven.

    FILLING1/2 recipe king cake (above)1 (16-ounce) can cherry, apple or apricot pie filling8 ounces cream cheese1/4 cup sugar2 tablespoons flour2 egg yolks1 teaspoon vanilla1 dried bean (to bake in the cake as per tradition)Colored sugars or confectioner's sugar and food coloring 

    Remove dough from refrigerator and with well-floured hands, while it's firm and cold, shape it into a long sausage shape. Using a floured roller on a floured surface, roll out the dough into a 30-by-9-inch rectangle as thin as pie crust. Let dough rest.

    If necessary, drain extra juice from pie filling. Mix the cream cheese with the sugar, flour, egg yolks and vanilla. Spoon an inch-wide strip of fruit filling the length of the dough, about 3 inches from one edge. Spoon the cream cheese mixture alongside the fruit, about 3 inches from the other edge. Brush both sides of dough with egg wash. Insert the bean.

    Fold one edge of dough over the cream cheese and fruit, then fold the other edge over. Gently place one end of the filled roll onto a greased pizza pan or large cookie sheet. Ease the rest of the roll onto the pan, joining the ends to form a circle or oval. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Brush again with egg wash and cut deep vents into the cake. Sprinkle with colored sugars if desired.

    Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until cake is well risen and golden. Cool before icing with confectioner's sugar mixed with enough water to make a spreadable paste and tinted purple, green and gold. Make one cake that serves 10 to 12 people. If using a plastic baby instead of the bean, insert it into the bottom of the cake after it is cooked.

    King Cake Web Sites
    Kingcake History
    Kingcake Recipe

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    Recommended Reading

    Mardi Gras Indians
    By Michael P. Smith, Alan Governar (Designer), Alan Govenar
    The traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians go back more than a century, and their activities are integral to the cultural heritage of blacks in New Orleans. Their importance to the community goes much deeper than can be understood from simply observing their participation in the annual festivities wearing elaborately beaded costumes. This colorful photographic portrait is supplemented with text describing the sociological issues surrounding the Mardi Gras Indians and their cultural significance.

    Mardi Gras : New Orleans
    By Henri Schindler
    Henri Schindler is a devotee of New Orleans Carnival. He served as the last float designer for the Mistick Krewe of Comus, the orginator of thematic New Orleans Carnival parades, until the Mistick Krewe was driven from the streets in 1992 by government interference. Rather than focus on this end, Mr. Schindler writes evocatively of the glory days of carnival, the "last butterfly of winter". It is at once stylish, historical, and moving- a must have for every carnival afficiendo. You come away not seeing just a drunken debacle, but an appreciation for a local celebration, rich in traditions, social history and the artists who helped create it. Complete with extraordinary photo-plates.

    All on a Mardi Gras Day : Episodes in the History of New Orleans Carnival
    By Reid Mitchell
    With this colorful study, Reid Mitchell takes us to Mardi Gras-to a yearly ritual that sweeps the richly multicultural city of New Orleans into a frenzy of parades, pageantry, dance, drunkenness, music, sexual display, and social and political bombast. In All on a Mardi Gras Day Mitchell tells us some of the most intriguing stories of Carnival since 1804.

    Mardi Gras : A Pictorial History of Carnival in New Orleans
    By Leonard V. Huber

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    Changes last made on: Thu Jan 15, 2004