For most, Mardi Gras means eating a ton on Fat Tuesday, beads and drinks but everyone forgets the best part -- and this one takes the cake -- King Cake.

A staple in New Orleans, king cakes date back to the Old World brought by the French and Spanish. Debatably, the cake symbolizes the three kings or wise men who brought gifts to baby Jesus in Christian tradition.

The King Cake comes in two shapes: one in a ring and another modeled after the galette de roi in traditional Mardi Gras colors, purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power. Both are typically filled with cream cheese, pecans or a variety of fruits and topped with sugar.

Most notably, King Cakes typically come with a plastic baby symbolizing Jesus Christ hidden inside. Whoever finds the baby - but doesn't swallow it - is crowned King or Queen of the party, with a blessing of good fortune to come, and an obligation to bring a cake to the next celebration the following year. Nowadays, the plastic baby is just placed on top of the cake, as it is a choking hazard.

Want to make your own King Cake this year to celebrate Mardi Gras? Here's a recipe, courtesy of Allrecipes.com and view the slideshow to see photos of the best King Cakes in New Orleans.

King Cake Recipe

Ingredients

  • PASTRY:
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • FILLING:
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • FROSTING:
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water

Directions

1.     Scald milk, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of butter. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

2.     When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt and nutmeg. Beat the flour into the milk/egg mixture 1 cup at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes.

3.     Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours. When risen, punch down and divide dough in half.

4.     Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 2 cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

5.     To Make Filling: Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour 1/2 cup melted butter over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.

6.     Roll dough halves out into large rectangles (approximately 10x16 inches or so). Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough and roll up each half tightly like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 2 oval shaped rings. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. With scissors make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

7.     Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Push the doll into the bottom of the cake. Frost while warm with the confectioners' sugar blended with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.