La galette des rois (the kings' cake) is a cake to celebrate the Epiphany, a Christian feast day for the coming and incarnation of Jesus Christ traditionally on January 6. However, as it is so yummy, the French bakeries sale it through the all month of January so that French people can enjoy this delicatessen longer! 😊
Since the 14th century, people in France eat the galette des Rois once a year. According to the tradition, the cake must be divided so that each guests gets a slice, plus an extra one called the part du Bon Dieu/Pauvre (Good Lord/Poor) which is reserved for any unexpected stranger.
The cake is typically bought in a boulangerie, and is made of pâte feuilletée (puff pastry), frangipane (filling made from or flavoured like almonds) or brioche (sweet bun). A fève (charm) in a shape of a figurine is hidden in the cake.
According to a French newspaper (Direct Matin), the pagan custom dates back to Roman times, when festivals were organized in honour of the gods between late December and early January. Masters and slaves ate together and a bean (a fève) was slipped into one of the dishes and whoever got it was hailed king of the feast. When the church instituted the festival of the Epiphany to celebrate the arrival of the three wise kings, the tradition of the bean in the cake remained.
La fève used to be a broad bean, it was replaced in around 1870 by a variety of figurines made out of porcelain or - more recently - plastic. These plastic figurines used to be in the shape of babies to represent Jesus but can now be anything from a car to a shoe. Real Galette des Rois fanatics will collect the charms year after year and build up a fine array of little trinkets. One guy named Bernard Joly has over 1,200 according to France TV info.
Here is a recipe in French of this delicious treat in French (of course) for you to try. Let me know how it went and don't hesitate to post a picture of it on my Facebook page or to send me a picture of it ;-) Here is one in English : Kings' cake
When kids are present, one of them (generally the youngest), must go under the table and shoot the names of the people to whom each slice should be given. The lucky one who gets the figurine becomes the king or the queen of the day, and he/she is given a golden or silver couronne (crown). They also have a song for kids about la Galette des Rois! Sing along to practice your French prononciation ;-)
Every year, the best pastry chefs design and bake a galette des Rois. Here are some of their 2016 creations :
Not everyone in France will have their cake and eat it today...
Poor president François Hollande! He is not allowed the chance to become king for the day. According to the trusty Wikipedia, the French president is not allowed to “draw the kings” on Epiphany because of the etiquette rules. “Therefore, a traditional galette without figurine or crown is served at Elysée Palace.” :-D
What about a galette des rois made of meat or Nutella or Peanut...?
Bakeries in Alsace are reinventing the pastry treat with a meat version. They're calling it a "tourte des rois", and it's filled with beef, chicken, or lamb instead of frangipane. Kind of like a sausage roll. La galette des rois can be made with anything nowadays... A new book by pastry chef Sue Su reveals 35 various new takes on the cake, with variations including Nutella, marshmallow and peanut, and even a taste of gingerbread. Why not?!
Enjoy your galette des Rois if you decide to make one or are in France right now!