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Let's not beat around the bead-covered bush any longer. Our panel of tasters has placed the 2012 Times-Picayune/NOLA.com King Cake Crown on the Pecan Praline King Cake at Manny Randazzo King Cakes in Metairie.
"Oh my goodness! Wow, I can't believe it," said a surprised Manny Randazzo when The Times-Picayune krewe turned up in his crowded bakery to present the award.
"It's overwhelming, especially after being up all night doing cakes.
"I'd like to thank the staff. We couldn't do it without them," he said "And to thank the customers."
It didn't take much urging for the jubilant baking staff to pile out the kitchen door, clapping and chanting "We're No. 1." Our judges certainly appreciated the bakers' efforts.
"Delicious. It's like a good praline crossed with a caramel cake," one of them wrote about the pecan praline cake during the judging. Another commented, "I would buy this and eat it in one sitting."
Here's how the judging process worked: For six weeks, panels of judges from The Times-Picayune and the food and arts communities tasted and scored three cakes at each of six bakeries, which readers selected as their favorites in our online polls. More than 20,000 votes were cast. The people spoke, and they did not steer us wrong. Thank you to all who participated.
In the end, it was a very close race. The judging proved that there are excellent king cakes at all these bakeries -- and really, why would they all be so popular if that were not the case?
Three cakes were taste-tested at each bakery (except for Sucre, which makes only one kind of king cake); the six top-scoring cakes were ranked against each other. Less than 1.5 points separated the top three king cakes.
In addition to point totals based on criteria including taste, appearance and texture, judges also were asked to rank the sweetness of the king cakes that were tasted. Haydel's Cream Cheese King Cake was ranked the least sweet; the sweetest was the Turtle King Cake at Randazzo's Camellia City Bakery.
Judges also were asked if they would spend their own money on the king cakes they tasted. The judges answered unanimously in the affirmative for only two of the king cakes: the one from Sucre, and Manny Randazzo's Pecan Praline.
At least two customers thought our judges were on the money in crowning that pecan praline the winner. Waiting in the line outside Manny Randazzo's during the award presentation was Lori Hutton. She and her husband, George Hutton, are in for the Carnival season from Detroit and have attended all but one of the king-cake tastings.
While it was "total serendipity" that she was there at awards time, she was very purposeful in her quest to buy a pecan praline cake.
"My husband said it was the best!"
Inside, Pam Randazzo held up the framed certificate from The Times-Picayune and nola.com to a central wall. "Where should I put it?
"Maybe I should just stand here with it for the rest of the season," she joked.
The award was an especially sweet affirmation for the bakery during this busy time of year. Twelve-hour shifts are common for the kitchen crew of about 35. "Manny comes in at 11 p.m. and stays until about 5 p.m.," says his wife, Pam Randazzo. "If we can kick him out early, we will."
He averages about four to five hours of sleep.
"One day I went home early and got 5 1/2 hours. Oh, man, did I feel rested," he said.