As with many festivals in France the French will mark the feast of the Epiphany on Wednesday by eating.
Whereas Christmas Eve is all about oysters and foie gras, January 6th is all about the Galette des Rois (King’s Cake).
So what’s a Galette des Rois?
It’s basically a frangipane tart made with pastry, butter, ground almonds and a few extra ingredients that will stretch the already bursting waistline for one final time before the January dieting begins.
Why’s it in the news this week?
Because the French love their traditions and none moreso than the Galette des Rois, which they scoff down on January 6th each year to mark the feast of the Epiphany, which is when the three kings turned up to give gifts to Baby Jesus (allegedly).
The tradition of eating the cake dates back to the 14th century. According to tradition the cake was to draw the kings to the Epiphany.
Interestingly during the French Revolution the name was changed to “Gâteau de l’egalité” because it wasn’t really the done thing to be a king at that time.
Ah but it isn’t. The Galette des Rois is not just about having a cup of tea and something sweet. There’s an age-old protocol that needs to be followed and it's all to do with the little charm that bakers hide inside the cake.
First of all the youngest child has to hide under the table and tell whoever is cutting the cake who should get which piece.
Whoever finds the charm, known as a “féve”, in their slice (as long as they don’t swallow it) gets to wear the crown that comes with the tart and then names their king or their queen.
And then everyone just sits down and scoffs it. Normally with either cider or champagne.
What’s the point of the charm?
It’s tradition of course. According to Direct Matin newspaper, 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.
I’d hate to find a bean in my cake.
Well luckily, although 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.
Some bakers, fearing they could be sued if someone chokes on it, put the charms outside the galette and leave it up to the buyer to hide it.
So everyone in France will have their cake and eat it?
Pretty much. Boulangeries in France love this time of year as their takings are boosted by the sale of the pastries.
Although poor president François Hollande 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.”
So how do you make it then?
Here’s a basic recipe thanks to the site Anglophone Direct. Good luck and bon appétit!
Galette des Rois
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry
140g ground almond
75g soft butter
3 egg whites
Mix the butter and the sugar until the mix whitens, then add the beaten eggs and the ground almond. Mix well.
In the middle of the first sheet of puff pastry, pour the mix. Lay the second sheet on top, and roll the sides of the sheets together towards the inside to seal the galette.
With a knife, draw diagonal lines in both direction (so that they cross each other) to create the pattern.
Then with a brush, spread the yolk on the whole cake to give it a golden colour.
Put in an oven for 30 minutes at 200 degrees Serve hot - but it is excellent cold too.