(Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro/Facebook)

With Mardi Gras fast approaching, king cake season is in full swing.

Cutting into a king cake, decorated in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold, and green, is a favorite ritual for many in the weeks leading to Lent. Traditionally, king cake is served throughout the Carnival season, which runs from Epiphany on January 6 until Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which is February 21 this year. Lent, the solemn period leading to Easter in the Christian calendar, begins the next day. 

The small plastic baby figure that comes with the cake has roots in a 19th century custom. High-society parties and balls, weekly events during Carnival, would feature a regal crown-shaped cake with a small token baked inside. Whoever got the token in their serving hosted the next gathering.

Today, king cakes grace dinner tables throughout Alabama. Bakeries develop state, regional, and even national reputations for their versions. They’re even sold in grocery stores, like Publix.

The basic king cake blueprint starts with a rich cinnamon-scented brioche. Lengths of the dough are twisted together and formed into a circle before baking. It’s finished with a generous layer of sweet icing and sugar dyed in Mardi Gras colors. Some versions are filled with cream cheese, preserved fruit, or pecans.

But some artisans add an extra twist, creating variations with ice cream, doughnuts, cookies—even crawfish. For something completely different, dig into the list below. There’s something for all tastes, meaning everyone can have their “cake” and eat it, too.

You’ll see that it doesn’t take much dough to let the good times roll.

(Gourmet Goodies/Facebook)

Gourmet Goodies (Daphne)

Crawfish King Cake—yes, you read that right. Gourmet Goodies’ Mardi Gras mashup recently placed third among 150 entries in the King Cake Extravaganza in New Orleans, also winning awards for best new contender and best savory king cake. The hefty take-and-bake goodie is topped with crawfish cream sauce to finish. Warning: They sell out early. Gourmet Goodies also makes miniature sweet king cakes as well as full-sized versions. 

Cammie’s Old Dutch Ice Cream Shoppe (Mobile)

The seasonal king cake ice cream at Cammie’s has actual cake blended in. Options for this house-made confection include cake with cinnamon or cream cheese filling. They’re a creative crew at Cammie’s, scooping Moon Pie ice cream at the new year and Little Debbie Christmas Tree ice cream during the December holidays. 

(The Pecan on Broad/Facebook)

The Pecan on Broad (Camden)

Miniature King Cakes are topped with shiny purple, green, and gold plastic babies. Decked out for Mardi Gras, the gourmet market, restaurant, and gift shop also stocks king cake-themed serving trays.

Cothran’s Bakery (Gadsden, Boaz)

Doughnuts have always been Cothran’s specialty. But during Carnival, Mardi-Gras themed cookies and king cakes rule at the full-service bakery. Crown iced cookies are sold individually or by the dozen. Cothran’s sells hundreds of king cakes through Fat Tuesday, made with a parade of fillings: strawberry, lemon, Bavarian, cream cheese, cinnamon/cheese, strawberry, apple, and raspberry.

Mason Dixon Bakery and Bistro (Huntsville)

Mason Dixon is a dedicated gluten-free bakery and restaurant, and that includes its king cake Carnival special. A dairy-free option also is available. Call the bakery (256) 213-7545 to order for pick-up.