Don't Worry, (Some) King Cakes Still Have The Baby Inside

Many bakeries provide the baby separately these days—but some bake the baby into the cake.

The first time I ate a real king cake was in first grade, in the early 1990s. A girl had come to our upstate New York class from New Orleans, and her parents sent her to school with one as a way to teach us about the Mardi Gras tradition. Our teacher told us all to be careful as we bit into our slices of cake, because someone was going to be served a piece with a plastic baby inside. That someone was me.

Tradition dictates that I should have bought the king cake for our classroom's next celebration, but since six-year-olds don't have much liquidity, I merely served as the envy of my classmates for the rest of the day—a major feat.

Of course, we've come a long way from the early 1990s, and things have changed. The plastic baby, representing the infant Jesus, is usually sitting on top of the cake these days rather than being baked inside it, eliminating the mystery of finding out who got the slice with the prize. The most common reason cited for this shift is that the baby poses a choking hazard.

But that leads to some questions. Do any bakeries tuck the baby into the cake anymore? And has anyone ever really choked on a king cake baby?

Are king cake babies a choking hazard?

When my daughter was an infant, a nurse gave me this choke tube and told me if an object fits in it, my kid could swallow it and choke on it. Small objects are choking hazards, and king cake babies are small objects. So yes, a person (of any age) who doesn't notice a plastic mass in their food could theoretically choke on it.

Advertisement

I was unable to find any official reports of king cake choking incidents, however. Blogger David Koch was similarly unsuccessful; he reported that, while trying to track down such data, he found that a much more well-documented dessert-related danger was mochi, which has caused a surprising number of choking incidents among elderly people in Japan. There is, however, some anecdotal evidence of people chomping down on king cake only to find an unwelcome surprise.

"First year after I moved to NOLA someone at work brought in a king cake," wrote one Reddit user. "As I'm eating I distinctly felt some hard plastic THING in my mouth, only to pull out a baby in complete confusion while everyone is laughing at my face."

Advertisement

"I actually had my first piece of King Cake about 5 or 6 years ago, and being the clueless person I am, had no idea there was a plastic baby somewhere in it," wrote a commenter on Free Range Kids. "As I ate the cake I crunched down on the baby and thought "what the...?" It was small enough so that I managed to cut myself a bite without seeing it, but certainly not small enough to completely evade my chompers while chewing."

Meanwhile a Reddit thread with an Australian person asking for clarification about how food containing a choking hazard could be sold devolved into commenters telling the OP what they, as a person who lives in Australia, should be afraid of instead (drop bears, snake bites, and Vegemite sandwiches among them).

Do king cakes still come with the baby inside?

Despite numerous reports claiming the baby is no longer allowed to be baked into king cakes, some bakeries do, indeed, sell their cakes with the baby inside.

Gambino's in New Orleans, for example, sells its king cake with "one plastic baby baked inside." These cakes can be shipped nationwide via Goldbelly. In an email to The Takeout, a representative from Gambino's said the bakery encourages parents of young children to check their kids' pieces of cake for the baby.

Advertisement

"As a mother and King cake lover, I just check my younger children's cake to look for the baby for choking hazards, and allow the older kids to play king cake baby roulette," said the rep. "These traditions just bring joy into our homes, and smiles."

Cake Wrecks, the internet's source for "when professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong," shared a picture of one bakery's ill-advised way of warning people about the choking hazard—that is, by writing in Sharpie inside the box, "THERE IS A BABY IN THE CAKE." However, the same post shows several cakes where the baby is sitting on top, at least one of them in a most hazardous position: face-down in the icing, arms flung out to the sides.

A Twitter user shared a picture of a more professional warning, worked right into the design of the cake's box.

Advertisement

There are plenty of king cakes sold without a baby inside

At the famous Dong Phuong bakery in New Orleans, the baby is baked outside of the cake, but choking isn't the reason cited for this decision. Instead, the shop considers it part of the tradition.

"Traditionally, the host of the party places the baby figurine in the King Cake before it's sliced and served," the company says on its website. "Each person then looks to see if their piece contains the hidden item. If so, then that person is named 'King' for a day and bound by custom to host the next party and provide the King Cake."

Advertisement

On Goldbelly, several king cake listings specify that the baby is shipped in the box but not inside the cake. In almost all cases, you still get the baby even when it's not inside the cake, which means you could, as Dong Phuong suggests, insert the plastic feve yourself. Unless you're shopping at Wegmans, where one disgruntled shopper allegedly didn't receive a baby and was advised to go to Michael's to buy one instead.

The bottom line is this: If you're going to have king cake at your gathering, check with the bakery in advance so you know what you're getting, and just before serving, make sure everyone is briefed on the baby situation. Never assume your guests already know their dessert might contain a plastic chunk of Christ child.

Advertisement

Recommended

Advertisement