February 12, 2023

Dong Phuong King Cake

As a self-proclaimed foodie it's a bit ironic that I never had a desire to visit New Orleans, home of gumbo, jambalaya and po' boys, until I heard about Dong Phuong King Cakes.  Dong Phuong is a renowned Vietnamese bakery in New Orleans East whose king cake is considered by many to be the best in The Big Easy and even nationwide.  I can't remember where I first heard about it but I had to try their take on the traditional celebratory cake that's made and sold only between Epiphany and Mardi Gras.   

My introduction to king cakes was as a student in France where it's known as galette des rois and made with puff pastry and frangipane filling.  Its Louisiana cousin, however, is more like a large iced cinnamon roll  decorated with purple, green and gold colored sugars, the colors of Carnival and Mardi Gras.  What differentiates Dong Phuong's cake from all the others is the brioche-like bread which bakes up lighter and flakier and topped with cream cheese frosting.
Since winning the prestigious James Beard award in 2018 the popularity of Dong Phuong's King Cakes has skyrocketed.  The bakery only produces the cakes during Carnival season and in limited supply, which makes it quite difficult to get your hands on them.  There's definitely a time investment involved to procure one.  I tried to order a cake online, via Goldbelly, but  unfortunately all the pre-orders were sold out within weeks of going live.  Not to be deterred , and more determined than ever, with plane ticket in hand I headed to MSY.
Here's how I was able to get my hands on the elusive Dong Phuong King Cake....  
Without a pre-order there are basically two ways to get a cake: 1) purchase from an authorized retailer or 2) join the walk-in queue at the bakery itself.  Luckily I had success with both options.  The place I was staying at in New Orleans was close to one of their retailers.  I had called the shop in advance and learned their process for buying a cake.  [Note: Each retailer has their own process.] This particular shop passed out cards to fifteen customers each morning, first come first serve, which gave the card holder the right to return in the afternoon to purchase up to two king cakes each.  That's how I was able to buy my first Dong Phuong King Cake - the original cinnamon flavor. 

My strategy was to buy and taste one cake first to see if it lived up to the hype and decide if it was worth the drive to the bakery. One bite and the decision was lived up to all the hype and there was no doubt that I would joining the queue the next day so that I could buy some other king cake flavors. The bread was flaky and light and the cream cheese frosting was incredibly fluffy and not too sweet.  Heaven in a bite. 
I drove to Dong Phuong Bakery the next day (it was a Thursday) arriving half an hour before the 8am opening, where about twenty people were ahead of me in the queue. I highly recommend going on a weekday, ideally Wednesday or Thursday, as several people in the queue told me that lines and wait times were much longer on Fridays and the weekend.   When it was my turn to purchase I chose  three of the filled king cakes: strawberry, coconut and pecan.  The bakery also sells cream cheese filled and almond creme filled.  While all the cakes were delicious my favorite was the original cinnamon, followed closely by the strawberry and then the coconut.  I found the pecan one's filling was a bit too sweet for my taste.     
You're probably wondering, "Was it worth the cross-country trek for the Dong Phuong King Cake?" My reply: sans doute...without a doubt! I don't see myself returning to New Orleans any time soon but come Dec/Jan when online ordering is available I already know which flavor(s) of Dong Phuong King Cake I will buy.  
Laissez les bons temps rouler!