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One New Orleans woman's quest to find the best king cake for Mardi Gras

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

It's Mardi Gras season, and in New Orleans, that means king cake. Maybe you've seen one. It's the city's signature loaf with purple, green and gold sugar and a little baby hidden inside. But not all king cakes are created equal. WWNO's Aubri Juhasz met a woman who has come up with a unique ranking system.

AUBRI JUHASZ, BYLINE: Kate Clark's love of king cake runs deep.

KATE CLARK: I still remember my first king cake. I was in the first grade.

JUHASZ: It was a classic brioche with cinnamon. Clark says it was love at first bite.

CLARK: And I was like, this may be the greatest thing I've ever tasted.

JUHASZ: I meet her at one of her favorite bakeries, Bittersweet Confections in downtown New Orleans. It's king cake season. Next to us, there's a table piled high with cakes, just a tiny fraction of the more than 8,000 the bakery will make this year. Clark is an attorney and works down the street, but she also moonlights as an artist and has a surprise for the bakery. It's a poster of sorts and her latest piece of art.

CLARK: This is for y'all. You made it on the board.

UNIDENTIFIED WORKER: (Squealing) I have to show Cheryl. Oh, my God, she's going to love this.

JUHASZ: What is it?

CLARK: It's King Cake-opoly (ph), so...

JUHASZ: King Cake-opoly, like Monopoly, the real estate board game where properties are sorted by color and value. Clark illustrated a special version of the game where, instead of the traditional properties, she subbed and ranked local king cakes. She says the board started as a way for her and her colleagues to try new king cakes.

CLARK: Like, last year, I joked that your reward was gaining 10 pounds.

JUHASZ: Cakes are judged based on taste but also consistency, frosting and even availability. The board starts at the Mediterranean Avenue of king cakes, Walmart. Next?

CLARK: And this year, it's the airport gift store king cake.

JUHASZ: Now, Clark is careful to point out that her game is a work of satire. She's got to cover herself legally. Remember, she's an attorney. After the lowest rung cakes, the board moves on to the grocery store variety.

CLARK: And then as you work your way around, you get...

JUHASZ: You get to the top tier of New Orleans bakeries.

CLARK: You know, many people have opinions about their favorite ones, are these kind of - you know, the Bittersweet, the Haydel, the Manny Randazzo, the Dong Phuong and the Hi-Do. I think those are - it's very hard to rank those because they're all a little different, but they're all really good.

JUHASZ: She did rank them, though. The Boardwalk of king cakes? It's Hi-Do. After discussing all manner of king cakes, it's time to eat Bittersweet's. Clark cuts herself a slice and takes a really big bite.

CLARK: Oh, my God. You know that moment in "Ratatouille" when the food critic tastes the ratatouille and it takes him back to childhood? This tastes like my mother's cinnamon rolls.

JUHASZ: Clark says she loves this time of year because it brings out the city's most whimsical side. She says the board is her contribution to the magic that is Mardi Gras.

For NPR News, I'm Aubri Juhasz in New Orleans.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE REBIRTH MARCHING JAZZ BAND'S "WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Aubri Juhasz
Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.