This year it's straight from Happy New Year to Laissez Les Bon Temp Rouler!
Mardi Gras comes early -- Feb. 9 -- and that's a good thing for South Mississippi bakeries and pastry shops.
An early king cake season means more financial dough for locally owned businesses at a time when many residents may be avoiding sugars and sweets.
"It keeps us alive as everyone is doing their New Year's resolutions," said Jacqueline Ladnier, owner of French Kiss Pastries and Apron Strings. French Kiss has three storefronts -- in downtown Ocean Springs, Long Beach's Bankhouse building and the Edgewater Mall food court in Biloxi. Apron Strings, which allowed Ladnier to move her kitchen to 434 Porter Ave. in Ocean Springs, sells cupcakes, cookies, fudge and brownies.
What an early Mardi Gras means
Ladnier said people who resolve to eat healthy in the new year often skip out on sweets, so an early Mardi Gras means more work for employees, more sales and happy customers.
"It keeps us going until Valentine's Day," she said.
The first batch of king cakes came out of the oven on Jan. 5 and were sold the next day on Twelfth Night.
"Last season, between two stores we did (sold) a couple a dozen a day," Ladnier said. "Now that we've added a third store (French Kiss), I'd say we'll do about 30 a day. We'll get more and more orders as we get closer to Fat Tuesday."
To keep up with demand, Ladnier hired a pastry chef, Lauren Fennell, to specifically make king cakes.
"She is my king cake girl," Ladnier said. Fennell expects to make about 800 cakes in the next month.
"The more experience, the better," Fennell said.
Ladnier's recipe calls for cinnamon roll dough, and it's topped with an airbrushed cream cheese frosting.
A Twelfth Night trend
Companies across the Coast -- and across the region -- used Twelfth Night to kick off all things king cake.
That's when employees at Rouse's in Gulfport began stacking fresh king
cakes atop a display near the store's entrance. By Jan. 8, the display was full and also contained boxes of king cake mix and Rouse's "Queen Cake" in three different flavors -- s'mores, salted caramel and cookies and creme.
Also on Twelfth Night, bakeries used social media to remind customers to order their favorite flavor for 2016.
Melissa's Bakery in Long Beach posted pictures of the baking process on Facebook and asked customers to place orders for the season. The bakery also started a Snapchat account to spread the word and offer exclusive deals.
Tatonut Donut Shop in downtown Ocean Springs posted a picture of its king cake doughnut to Facebook on Twelfth Night. The popular breakfast spot was closed Dec. 31 to Jan. 5 for the holidays, and reopened with a pastry covered in purple, green and gold.
At Cheeky Monkey in D'Iberville, custom-made king cakes are featured in Facebook posts reminding customers that they are now taking custom orders. Last year's bacon king cake was very popular among South Mississippi residents, and they've added a savory pulled pork king cake using J. Lee's Gourmet BBQ Sauce.
An employee at Crazy B's Coffee and Confections in Pascagoula told the Sun Herald that king cakes are a very popular seller. Employees were ready to work late, baking cakes that would fly off the counter the next morning.
Smoothie King unveiled its own king cake creations in stores across Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. The advertising slogan, "It doesn't have to be a Fat Tuesday," boasts healthy options that taste like the New Orleans treat. The King Cake Gladiator Smoothie is made with Gladiator protein powder and has 250 calories. Their King Cake frozen yogurt smoothie has less protein, fewer calories and more carbohydrates.
Carnival on Capitol Hill
A sweet taste of the South also comes early for some lucky residents of Washington.
Senate staffer Hayley Alexander of Long Beach uses social networking to sell her homemade king cakes on Capitol Hill. House of Crumbs -- a tasty word-play on the political thriller "House of Cards" -- markets to D.C. residents who want a taste of South Mississippi Mardi Gras.
"The majority of king cakes that I made last year were a traditional cinnamon filling," Alexander said. "Then, I got a little bit more creative with a few of them -- I made one with a brown sugar, cinnamon and Nutella filling with a marshmallow cream icing and toasted praline pecans on top."
And the results of her new recipe were positive.
"It was very rich and delicious," she said.
Alexander posts photos of her creations on her Facebook and Instagram pages. @HouseOfCrumbsDC has nearly 7,000 Instagram followers.
Her fruit fillings -- like lemon, strawberry and blackberry -- are made with homemade jam.
Alexander said a lot of her clients are Mississippians and Louisianans living the the nation's capitol for work and are missing that "taste of home" around Mardi Gras. Alexander has even made king cakes for an office party for Sen. Roger Wicker.
"It's something that they're proud of and like to celebrate," Alexander said. "It was fun to offer a taste of home to my home senator's office."
Alexander also likes to show friends from all over the country that there's more to Mardi Gras culture besides the Big Easy.
"This is a really transient city. There are people from all over the country that live here, and we all have a lot to learn from each other," she said. "All they have in mind is Bourbon Street and New Orleans. I grew up in Mississippi, and we eat king cake and go parades."
This year, Alexander added king cake cookies to her carnival season lineup.