Chattanooga-area bakeries staying busy with king cakes for Mardi Gras, love confections for Valentine’s Day

Bakeries staying busy with king cakes for Mardi Gras, love confections for Valentine’s Day

Contributed Photo / Mardi Gras king cake is a longtime tradition for the Rembrandt's Coffee House pastry kitchen.
Contributed Photo / Mardi Gras king cake is a longtime tradition for the Rembrandt's Coffee House pastry kitchen.

They're not exactly dueling holidays, but the timing of Fat Tuesday and Valentine's Day on consecutive days next month is keeping the ovens humming at some Chattanooga-area bakeries.

"It's like a bad dream for us," says New Orleans native Tony McInnis, owner of Tasty Donuts in East Brainerd and Ooltewah. "Mardi Gras is usually our fourth or fifth busiest day of the year, and Valentine's Day is second (after National Doughnut Day). "It's stressful to have two of our Top 5 days back to back."

(READ MORE: Tasty Donuts expands with new gelato shop in Ooltewah)

While Mardi Gras, or Carnival, season always starts on Epiphany, Jan. 6, its final day of revelry, Fat Tuesday, happens on the eve of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, leading up to Easter. Because Easter's date can vary from March 22 to April 25, the length of Carnival season changes. Last year, the season lasted 46 days; this year, 38 days. Three times in the past 10 years, Fat Tuesday has closely aligned with Valentine's Day, including the same dates, Feb. 13-14, in 2018.

More often, Carnival season ends in late February or early March, which sets an easier pace, McInnis says.

"In a normal year, we hit pause on Mardi Gras and then come back to it after Valentine's Day," he says. "We can't this year because of the timing."

 

Rich in symbolism as well as taste, king cakes are the tricolored treats most commonly associated with Mardi Gras. Fillings such as cinnamon, chocolate or cream cheese add deeper levels of sweetness within a brioche dough already laden with butter and eggs.

Though eaten throughout Carnival season, there's often a push for the confections on Fat Tuesday, a final day of indulgence in some religious traditions. When Lent begins the next day, it's common to abstain from certain foods, such as meat or sweets, during the 40-day observance.

(READ MORE: Make a king cake to prepare for Mardi Gras)

Courtney Daugherty, director of marketing and wholesale for the Bluff View Art District, says it helps that king cakes are consumed throughout the season, not just on Fat Tuesday.

"I have found, in my time here, that Mardi Gras is more of a season and Valentine's Day is celebrated as a day/weekend," she says.

Bluff View's king cakes, baked and sold at Rembrandt's Coffee House, are available by advance order (the deadline is Feb. 9). The pastry kitchen also offers grab-and-go mini king cakes and cookies decorated in Carnival colors.

Valentine's Day adds "anything from whoopie pies and cookies to heart-shaped breads and specialty loaves," Daugherty says.

(READ MORE: Culinary guide names Rembrandt's Coffee House in Chattanooga as best in Tennessee)

In addition to king cakes, Tasty Donuts has doughnuts decorated in Carnival colors, as well as a Big Easy doughnut filled with cream cheese and topped with a pecan praline sauce.

"That's really gained popularity since we introduced it a couple of years ago," he says.

At least three versions of king cakes stay ready for pickup at the two shops. The newest, filled with Chantilly cream and fresh sliced blueberries and raspberries, may be ordered ahead. Or, if customers "can just be patient" while the confection is put together, he says, "we can go in the back and make it happen."

His Valentine's Day push starts about two weeks out, with appeals for advance orders for doughnuts decorated with hearts and X's and O's.

"Doughnut shops are a crazy place on Valentine's Day, so it helps to order ahead of time," he says.

Not every bakery is trying to keep up with both traditions.

Shannon Anderson, who co-owns Chatta-Cakes Bakery in Hixson, with her husband, Mike, says they leave king cakes to J. Gumbo's, a neighboring Cajun and Creole restaurant. That's necessary for the work required for the heart-shaped cakes, red fortune cookies and specially decorated cupcakes their crew will pull from the ovens heading into Feb. 14.

(READ MORE: Small Biz: Chatta-Cakes Bakery whipping up custom sweets)

Anderson says the demand for Valentine's Day goodies is close to the sales they see incrementally in December.

"We make about the same amount of income as Christmas in one day on Valentine's Day," she says. "Valentine's Day is just about sweets. That's all the holiday is -- sweets for someone you love."

Top sellers year-round are custom sugar cookies whose designs change with the seasons, Anderson says. Also popular for Valentine's Day are anything chocolate-dipped, including pretzels and Oreos, homemade brownies decorated with hearts and cute messages, and cupcakes piped with frosting roses.

"We make everything look as pretty as possible," she says.

Also trending this year are heart-shaped cakes decorated to evoke the look of frosting-thick confections of a half-century ago.

"It's an old, vintage style from the 1970s," Anderson says. "It's really pretty, with lots of borders and a frilly design."

Chatta-Cakes will stop taking special orders about a week before Valentine's Day, but the shelves are already turning pink, red and chocolate for walk-in customers ready to celebrate.

The store also will be showing love to customers with a surprise selection of lemon cookies with raspberry filling.

"We only do those in the summer," Anderson says, "but it's such a popular cookie we're bringing those in for Valentine's Day. Lemons are out of season so they're expensive right now, but we're going to pay the extra money and do the lemon cookies."

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.

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