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FRENCH TRADITIONS

Galette des Rois: Everything you need to know about France’s royal tart

French families mark the end of the festive season by scoffing down a pastry fit for kings. Here's the story of the Galette des Rois - a tart that can make you feel like royalty.

Galette des Rois: Everything you need to know about France's royal tart
The Galette des Rois isn't just any old cake. Photo: Steph Gray/Flickr

As with many festivals in France, the feast of the Epiphany has its own special food.

Whereas Christmas and New Year’s Eve is all about oysters and foie gras, January 6th is all about the Galette des Rois (Kings’ Cake).

So what is 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.

It is eaten on January 6th each year to mark the feast of the Epiphany – when the three kings (allegedly) turned up to give gifts to Baby Jesus.

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 (equality cake) because it wasn’t really the done thing to be a king at that time.

But it’s just a cake?

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.

Is there just one type of Galette?
 
Non, non, non. While traditionalists, and there are quite a few of those in France, might insist on the original recipe and shape, French chefs are getting more and more inventive when it comes to these galettes.
 
Even though no galette is the same in any two pâtisseries, some places have been working extra hard to stand out from the crowd.
 
In recent years one of the most prestigious pâtisseries in Paris, Fauchon, has created a galette in the shape of a giant pair of lips. Of course they couldn’t just stick to the original recipe and they added passion fruit, raspberry and rose petals to the mix.
 
Its close rival Dalloyau called its own creation the “crystal galette” which comes with a touch of bitter orange and Papua New Guinean vanilla. They’ve even added crystals to the crown. 
 
And new recipes are being promoted including a galette with chocolate chips and nuts, caramelized apple and dried fruit or even almond, pear and chocolate.

And of course we can always rely on Richard Legay, the famous baker from the Marais district of Paris, to come up with his own special take on the galette – see pics below. His boulangerie Legay Choc is well known for creating penis-shaped patisseries.

What’s the point?

It’s tradition of course (well maybe not the penis-shaped ones). According to Direct Matin newspaper, the pagan custom dates back to Roman times, when festivals were organised 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 man 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.

Unfortunately the soaring price of butter this year means that buyers are likely to see an increase of around €1-2 in the price of their cake.

And spare a thought for Emmanuel Macron – who is not allowed the chance to become king for the day.

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.”

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POLITICS

Paris Agriculture show returns for 2022 event

The Paris farm show is back after being cancelled last year due to the pandemic. Set to be held one month before the presidential election, the 2022 event will be politically loaded.

French President Emmanuel Macron checks the quality of a cow during the Paris Agriculture show.
French President Emmanuel Macron checks the quality of a cow during the Paris Agriculture show. The event returns in late February after being cancelled last year due to the pandemic. (Photo by Ludovic Marin / POOL / AFP)

The organisers of the Salon de l’agriculture, an annual farm show held in Paris, have announced that the 2022 event will be held from February 26th – March 6th.

The 2021 edition was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic – and the 2020 event was cut short – and there had been fears that this year would suffer the same fate. 

“This edition will not be like the others,” wrote the organisers in a statement, out of “respect for the health guidelines.” 

Mask-wearing rules, added ventilation inside exhibition tents and special measures to facilitate tastings during the pandemic will be implemented. Visitors will need to hold a valid health pass. 

The event falls just over one month before the first round of the presidential election, set for April 10th – and candidates will be sure to milk the opportunity to score political points. 

The event is the annual highlight of the agriculture sector – which employs about 759,000 people in France – and many more rely on the agricultural sector indirectly for employment. The sector was valued at €81.2 billion in 2021.

“This is a highly anticipated event, not just for the farming community, but also for citizens, political leaders and the media,” wrote the event organisers. 

Former President Jacques Chirac pioneered the use of the farm show as a political event, visiting almost every year from 1972- 2011. 

Former President Jacques Chirac inaugurates the 2007 Paris farm show.

Former President Jacques Chirac inaugurates the 2007 Paris farm show. (Photo by PATRICK KOVARIK / POOL / AFP)

In 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron spent 14 hours strolling through the farm show, shaking hands and speaking with producers. This marathon visit set a new record for a sitting president. 

Previously, Francois Hollande is reported to have paid a 10 hour visit, Jacques Chirac 5.5 hours and Nicolas Sarkozy just four hours. 

The Local visited the show in 2020 to find out why it was so important for politicians to attend. 

READ MORE Why petting cows at the farm show is crucial for French politicians

The event, which is held at the Porte de Versailles in the south of Paris, isn’t just for farmers and politicians – it’s hugely popular with the public and thousands of people usually attend. 

The full ticket price is €15, for children between 6-12 it is €8 and children under six can go free. There are also group discounts available. 

Tickets can be bought online here and at the venue itself. 

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