L AFAYETTE — It seems every bakery and grocery store in south Louisiana offers up its own version of king cake this time of year, and Robert Carriker hopes to taste them all.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette history professor is the brains behind www.kingcaker.com, a website where he has begun building a library of reviews and ratings on a “12-baby” scale of king cakes and king cake-influenced products.
If Carriker’s past culinary fieldwork is any indication, the site will likely grow to encyclopedic proportions.
Carriker is also the founder of boudinlink.com, a boudin review website launched about a decade ago that now boasts more than 180 entries, with A-to-F ratings, close-up photos of the boudin and comments on the meat-to-rice ratio, texture, spice, presentation and casing, as well as the ambiance of the establishment where the links are sold.
He parlayed his extensive experience in the world of boudin into a book — “BOUDIN: A Guide to Louisiana’s Extraordinary Link” — and launched an annual Boudin Cook-Off in Lafayette.
Carriker has also started a spin-off from the boudin website, www.cracklintrail.com, dedicated to the south Louisiana snack of fried pork skins with a little meat and fat still attached.
A website dedicated to king cakes seemed the next natural step, Carriker said.
Just as each person might have their favorite link of boudin or piece of cracklin, he said, many people are intensely loyal to a particular store’s king cake.
“Their passion for their king cake is similar to their passion for their boudin recipe,” Carriker said.
He said much of the joy in doing a king cake website is to explore the myriad variations on the king cake theme and perhaps point someone in the direction of a king cake they might not have ordinarily tasted.
“People see it and then they say, ‘I didn’t realize there was this place or that place,’ ” Carriker said.
On Thursday, Carriker found himself at just such a place: Crystal Weddings bakery on Mimosa Place in Lafayette.
The bakery’s main business is wedding cakes, but each Mardi Gras season they sell a few thousand king cakes to what co-owner Mary Boudreaux said is largely a group of loyal repeat customers.
“If someone likes what you do, they’re coming back,” she said.
The bakery offers some 30 standard flavors, but Boudreaux said they are open to any suggestions, which in the past have included peanut butter and Oreo cookies.
Carriker gave the Crystal Weddings king cake a rating of 11 out of 12 babies, near the top of king cake pantheon.
“The cake component of the CW king cake is relatively light and baked to golden perfection. It is sweet and moist and it is an exceptionally attractive cake,” Carriker wrote in his review.
Carriker said that based on what he’s tasted so far, he considers the king cake at Keller’s Bakery in downtown Lafayette to be the reference point — a cake that has achieved all 12 babies on his 12-baby rating scale.
“There’s a lot to like here, but we especially appreciate Keller’s boldness in mixing the cream cheese and the fruit filling together,” Carriker observed in his review.
A king cake from a local Walmart, on the other hand, was not as warmly received.
The rating: 4 out of 12 babies.
“Wal-Mart is good for a lot of things,” Carriker wrote. “Whether they’re good for king cakes is going to be up to you. “
The reviews include comments on notable features of each cake, available flavors, available sizes and prices.
The professor said he developed the 12-baby scale to differentiate the rating from a 10-point scale that readers might confuse with an academic grading system.
On a test in his class, five out of 10 would be an F, but for a food rating, it would simply mean average, though most people might not read it that way.
As for his analysis, he admits it is highly subjective.
“This is not scientific. I will say that to begin with,” Carriker said.
And he said he likes to keep the reviews upbeat, even while noting areas for improvement.
“You can be positive but also be critical,” Carriker said.
The website, which had a soft launch last year, focuses on the Lafayette area, but Carriker said he already has plans on making inroads in New Orleans.
So far, he has reviewed 11 king cakes, a king cake cupcake and something called “King Cake Fry,” an offering from Lafayette’s Freetown Fries food truck — sweet potato french fries covered with a cream cheese sauce and a then topped with green, gold and purple sugar.
Carriker also has his sights set on a king cake cappuccino and a king cake vodka.
“It’s not just king cakes any more. It’s everything inspired by king cakes,” he said.