ANCHORAGE, Alaska The aroma of freshly-baked pastries filled the air at the Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center Monday afternoon, and purple, green and gold icing was being dribbled and slung across the tops of some scrumptious-looking, round confections.
It was a little taste of New Orleans-style Mardi Gras, right here in Alaska.
They are known as "King Cakes", a Mardi Gras tradition, and chef Tom Christensen and his staff of six bakers-in-training have been whipping them up as fast as they can for the past few days to keep up with demand.
That's because Tuesday is 'Fat Tuesday', the peak of the Mardi Gras carnival season, and you can't properly celebrate Mardi Gras without a king cake.
Christensen came up with the idea of making Mardi Gras-style king cakes in Alaska as a fund raising tool for the Soup Kitchen, and to teach baking skills to women who are homeless so they can find work and turn their lives around.
Speaking about the challenges his students face in their lives, Christensen said "it could be anything. It could be alcoholism, it could be addicted to anything, it could be just bad luck."
Matrona Wassile is in the program, and said baking the Mardi Gras treats is a lot of fun. She especially enjoyed drizzling multi-colored icing on the cakes. "We glaze it with a clear glaze, and then after we glaze it, we color it with purple, green and gold."
The colors symbolize justice, faith and power. In a tradition, dating back hundreds of years, a small baby doll - symbolizing the baby Jesus - is placed within the cake by the people who purchase them. King cakes commemorate the first time the three wise men saw the baby Jesus.
Last year's batch of king cakes proved to be wildly popular. Christensen said they sold more than 100.
Even though Mardi Gras is here, the women at the Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center baking program will still be happy to bake you one, Christensen said.
To contact them, call 907- 538-7114.