As the good times roll into South Mississippi this Mardi Gras season, the competition is fierce at bakeries.
From January to Lundi Gras, the demand for king cakes is high, and business owners say that shoppers are looking for more than just a cinnamon pastry topped with dyed sugar. This year, consumers can find unique Mardi Gras-themed pastries in dessert boxes from pastry shops across South Mississippi.
One of the most popular and well-known in South Mississippi is Paul's Pastry Shop in Picayune, which specializes in king cakes and sells 29 different flavors from $7.49 for a small to $22.99 for a large. They also ship king cakes.
But smaller shops have popped up offering some unique takes on the traditional cakes.
A Cheeky flavor
"The Coast makes great king cakes," said Jennifer Noble, owner of Cheeky Monkey Cake Company in D'Iberville.
"We wanted to do something to set us apart and stand out among the crowd."
So, Noble and her baking staff created a king cake that is painfully good -- Achin' for Bacon.
Noble, who opened shop last November, said the idea to incorporate bacon into baked goods came from a customer.
"One of our great clients that we've had since we've opened challenged us to make a bacon cupcake," she said. "We met that challenge.
The cupcake is topped with a maple frosting, bacon crumbles and syrup.
Much like the cupcake, the Achin' for Bacon king cake is a top seller at Cheeky Monkey.
"They're fantastic," Noble said. "We can't keep them in the store."
Noble said the king cake is stuffed with a maple cream cheese filling and bacon crumbles.
After baking, it is topped with bacon crumbles and maple syrup.
It retails for $16 and serves 12 to 15 people.
Noble also makes mini king cakes in all flavors. The smaller cakes are 6 inches, and Nobel said they are a hit for travelers or first-time king cake eaters.
"Those seem to be really popular with tourists and military who don't want to invest in a large king cake," she said.
Cheeky Monkey also makes specialty king
cakes made to order.
Popcorn king cake
King Cake doesn't always have to be cake. At Popcorn Plus inside Edgewater Mall in Biloxi, customers can order a popcorn king cake for $9.99.
Owner Rachel Schmitt said she wanted to make a Mardi Gras creation with her popcorn.
"A king cake seemed to be the perfect thing," she said.
Schmitt bakes caramel popcorn in a king cake mold, and she said the caramel helps maintain the shape of a king cake. After baking, it is drizzled with white chocolate and sprinkled with purple, gold and green sugar.
"It's very sweet, but king cake is sweet," she said.
Popcorn king cakes went on sale Feb. 6, and Schmitt said she will continue to sell them through Mardi Gras.
A bakery that has had South Mississippi roots for nearly 90 years made a bite-sized version of their popular Mardi Gras king cakes this year.
Nona Balius of Electrik Maid in Biloxi said this year, she is selling king cake bites for the first time.
The small, round dough balls are made from king cake dough and stuffed with various flavors and filling.
"They are so easy to serve and eat," Balius said.
A dozen of the bites retail for $8.50. Three dozen of the bites costs $22.
Electrik Made also serves a king cake shaped like an alligator that has always been a Coast favorite.
A bite of Mardi Gras
In Pascagoula, Crazy B's on Market Street serves up bite-sized pieces of king cake dough smothered in a cream cheese icing.
A dozen king cake bites runs $4.80.
Owner Susan Kendrick said the bites are a favorite during the holiday.
"They're very popular for Mardi Gras balls and on parade days," she said.
Serious king cakes
At Serious Bread and Bakery on Main Street in Bay St. Louis, baker Jose Pablo Paz doesn't use a mold or recipe when creating the shop's king cakes.
Paz said he has been baking for 35 years and has been making king cakes for 10 years.
The king cakes begin with a sweet dough, and cinnamon and select fillings are added.
"Everyday is something new," Paz said.
A medium-size king cake retails for $25 and up, depending on filling. Small king cakes range from $10 to $15.
"It's been very busy," Paz said. "We haven't stopped."