Carnival season just got 20% cooler.
I’d heard of king cake before I moved to Mississippi, but I didn’t know anyone outside of New Orleans who actually participated in the tradition. Now, thanks to our great state’s proximity to Louisiana, I’ve enjoyed almost enough king cake in the past five years to make up for the previous three decades of king cake deprivation. Almost.
Also in those five years, I’ve seen some real progress from Oxford on the king cake front.
Inspired by a Saveur recipe that I’m sure came across my Facebook feed while I was procrastinating on more important tasks, I attempted my first homemade king cake in 2015. That’s when I discovered the difficulty of procuring traditional king cake paraphernalia in North Mississippi.
Purple sanding sugars? Nowhere to be found. Tiny, plastic baby Jesus? Not a chance.
A little luck and a little planning have helped me navigate these obstacles with increasing dexterity. I learned a certain friend from Lafayette, Louisiana (the other Lafayette) keeps “a whole bowl full of babies” from years past. And I learned to stock up on yellow and purple sprinkles every Easter for the next year’s cakes.
Perhaps because of these minor inconveniences, or perhaps because other people don’t use baking as their preferred mode of procrastination, most of my Oxford friends just order king cakes from elsewhere: Le Bakery in Biloxi, Broad Street Bakery in Jackson, Paul’s Pastry Shop in Picayune, Manny Randazzo’s in Metairie.
Most people feel undying loyalty to their favorite king-cake purveyor no matter how far they have to drive or how much they have to pay in shipping, which works out alright if you’re only seeking one or two cakes per season.
But Carnival is the season of over-indulgence. Why have one king cake when you can have ten?
Ben Ulmer, who opened Beagle Bagel in Oxford with his brother Will in 2016, has set out to ease your king cake worries. Starting January 6, the first day of Carnival, the store will sell king cakes everyday until Mardi Gras. Customers can also pre-order to select the filling of their choice: cinnamon sugar, strawberry, almond, cream cheese, and more.
Beagle Bagel, which Ben’s parents opened in Ridgeland, Mississippi in 1995, is best known for its homemade chicken salad and, of course, their from-scratch bagels. But the family-owned company also crafts sweets for every holiday and occasion, from birthday parties to Grove celebrations.
“At our Jackson location,” Ben explains, “we noticed more and more people requesting king cakes a few years back.” The store originally accommodated these requests by purchasing the confections from another bakery nearby. As demand crept higher, though, “it just became a hassle. We started making our own from scratch four years ago.”
That’s cause for celebration. Just don’t forget the cardinal rule of king cakes: if your slice contains the baby, you’re responsible for providing the cake at the next gathering.
Thanks to Will and Ben Ulmer, you can pull that off at the drop of a Mardi Gras mask.