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King Cake Season Kicks Off at Upper East Side Bakeries

By DNAinfo Staff on January 3, 2013 7:31am

UPPER EAST SIDE — In this war between kings, victory is sweet.

Two celebrated French patisseries across the street from each other on the Upper East Side — Maison Kayser and FP by Francois Payard — are offering their take on king cake just in time for Three Kings Day, or Epiphany, this Sunday.

The traditional circular cake is made up of a flaky pastry exterior and an almond cream filling, with a small toy hidden inside. There are many different versions of the cake around the world, including the colorful, cinnamon-filled king cake popular in New Orleans.

At Maison Kayser, at 1294 Third Ave., bakers experimented with the order of the recipe steps and the role of butter in the puff pastry, resulting in a chewier, more moist dessert, said Nicolas Chevrieux, executive pastry chef.

"It's softer," Chevrieux said in French. "It takes longer to savor."

Kayser also used California almonds and Madagascar vanilla in the cake.

"They're the best quality in the world," Chevrieux said of the nuts. "And the vanilla is a little sweeter."

Though there are various versions of King's cake throughout the world — including the sugar-topped, cinnamon-laden approach popular in New Orleans — the traditional galette is made up of a flaky pastry exterior and an almond cream filling. Typically hidden in the galette is a "fève" — a small item such as a toy or a small plastic baby — and the individual who discovers the "fève" gets crowned King.

Responding to safety concerns — namely, that a toy hidden in a cake might pose a choking hazard — several favors come on the side of Kayser's pastry. The toys are small tiles with photos and philosophic sayings, Chevrieux said.

"It expresses the spirit of baking," he said. "It's very cute."

Kayser's king cake costs $5.95, $28 and $35 for individual, six-person and eight-to-10-person sizes.

At FP Patisserie, located right across the street from Kayser at 1293 Third Ave., those who try the king cake will discover not a toy but rather one of celebrity chef Francois Payard's signature macarons hidden inside.

Other than that substitution, the king cake does not stray from the time-tested traditional approach, said assistant manager Amelie Oger.

"It's a classic pastry," Oger said in French. "It's the same as in France."

Payard's prices are $35, $45 and $55 for six-person, eight-person and 10-person king cakes.

Both bakeries' cakes come with crowns.