Glitter was the theme of the day at the second tasting in The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com King Cake King contest, held Tuesday at the Sucre location near Lakeside Shopping Center.
Gallery: King Cake at Sucre
A young woman in full Carnival regalia, including glitter face paint and purple, green and gold sparkling eye shadow, handed out beads at the door; farther inside, free king cake slices were served to all comers, along with coffee. The king cake put on the glitz as well; it’s a one of a kind, lustrous purple, green and gold dusted with edible glitter.
Its creator, co-owner and pastry chef Tariq Hanna, describes it as “a ’70s glam rock version of a king cake. If Ziggy Stardust ever got his hands on a king cake, it’s what it would look like,” he said. “Someone said it looks like a deflated Mylar balloon.”
“It’s a great addition to the king cake scene, a different type of king cake,” said Dale Curry, retired Times-Picayune food editor and current food editor at New Orleans Magazine. Curry served on the judging panel with reporter Danny Monteverde and me.
One couple at the event, Lori and George Hutton, read about it in the paper and came out. They’re from Detroit, but love New Orleans and Carnival so much that this year they are spending two months in a state park in St. Bernard Parish to experience the whole season. George has ridden in the Krewe of Thoth parade for 21 years, so they are not strangers to king cake.
“We tried one a week last year” during their Carnival stay, said Lori, “and I like this one.”
Chef Hanna likewise came to New Orleans from Detroit. After Hurricane Katrina, he partnered with local chef-entrepreneur Joel Dondis, and they opened Sucre on Magazine Street in spring 2007.
Hanna was born and reared in Nigeria and went to English boarding schools. He wound up in the States and in cooking school. He is arguably the city’s most high-profile pastry chef, and has competed in several Food Network and TLC televised challenges.
King cake was a challenge, too. Up North, he had made paczki, the round jam-filled doughnuts eaten on Fat Tuesday, but he only heard about king cakes shortly before he moved here.
“All I knew was it’s this coffee cake-looking thing. I started trying them. I’m not trying to sound like an insolent brat, but I wasn’t too impressed,” Hanna said. “I spoke to all my friends and Megan Forman, my assistant … they walked me through the whole process, the nostalgia, what people are accustomed to. It always went back to the galette or bricoche ring, braided. It was about really trying to home in a little bit on the historical aspect of what the product was. Me being the new guy in town, I also wanted to put my modernist twist on it. It’s a reinvention of the classic.”
And it had a rocky start, he admits. The version that the bakery now makes, about 400 times a day, is a folded and refolded 35 percent-fat brioche dough, with layers of butter (adding another 30 percent fat) and a cream cheese filling (do you really want to know?) rolled into the highly enriched dough. The cream cheese is designed to melt into the layers.
“It’s about indulgence, so that became the entire mindset of how I approached it. And I wanted to be sure I had a product that was not going to be dry,” Hanna said.
Early on, when some tasters told Hanna the king cake was not sweet enough, he took it as a huge compliment, he said.
“Twenty years ago when I was a punk kid full of p--- and vinegar … I found that sugar in America as a flavor is unappealing. So my quest was, how do you impart flavor without overcompensating with a ton of sugar?”
For the king cake, he didn’t want to add a heavy icing. Instead, the cakes get a thin glaze, very similar to a doughnut glaze.
“It’s just enough sweetness, but not so sugary and cakey that it becomes overbearing,” Hanna said. The cake is finished with a sprayed-on coating of luster dust and edible glitter.
The full-service bakery also has Mardi Gras chocolates and a seasonal king-cake macaroon, which has one yellow side, a green side and a lavendar-colored cinnamon butter-cream filling. Macaroons have been a signature item since the bakery opened, before their extreme trendiness of the past couple of years.
Dondis said Sucre is gearing up on several fronts to expand beyond the New Orleans area, starting with the hiring of Virginia Saussy as vice president of sales and operations. Saussy, who is leaving Mignon Faget Ltd. for the new job, was at the Tuesday event.
(In fact, she discovered that she and Hanna are both covered in glitter this time of year. He inevitably wears bits of the edible kind, but hers is the kind she and friends glue onto Muses shoes in her Uptown garage-turned-“glitterage.”)
For future stores, “We’re eyeing Houston and Dallas,” Dondis said. And at the next Fancy Food Show in New York, Sucre will debut a mass-market candy, due on shelves this summer. It’s called Macbubl, and he described it as a two- or three-bite chocolate macaroon candy.
“It’s the next generation of candy,” Dondis said.
Sucre makes only one kind of king cake, not counting macaroons and candy. Hanna served the judging panel a room temperature cake as well as one that had been heated. Note to king cake consumers: Do try this at home. The heated one was noticeably different.
Next week, on Jan. 24, the king cake judging panel will do its only two-a-day tasting. We will be at Manny Randazzo King Cakes, 3515 N. Hullen St., Metairie, at 11 a.m., and at Haydel’s Bakery, 4037 Jefferson Highway, at 2 p.m. If you can’t attend, be sure to check out the videos that Doug MacCash is posting on www.nola.com/mardigras.
We take our judging seriously, as I have said here before. But we also enjoy and revere all the glitter and glitz that comes along with Carnival season, and king cakes.
Staff writer Karen Taylor Gist contributed to this report.