If you're in Paris in late December or January, you're sure to see the Galette des Rois, the scrumptious King Cake. on display in boulangeries, patisseries, and supermarkets. Often topped with a golden paper crown, the cake is a part of the traditional Epiphany celebrations, a religious holiday marking the arrival of the Three Kings. Today, however, the Galette des Rois is eaten throughout the month of January, as a way to celebrate the new year with family and friends, regardless of religious background.
Did you think the French food fest was over now that Christmas and New Year’s Eve were behind us? Uh… not quite. If you’re in France, you’ll find that January brings with it the traditional Galette des Rois, the scrumptious King Cake. Starting in mid-December, you’ll see this pastry displayed in boulangeries, patisseries, and supermarkets around Paris, often topped with a golden paper crown.
You’ll typically find two basic styles of Galette des Rois: in Northern France, it’s made of pâte feuilleté, puff pastry, and stuffed with a dense, creamy almond paste called frangipane, or perhaps with applesauce. It’s flaky, sweet, and best served fresh out of the oven. In the South of France, you’ll be eating a brioche-style cake covered with candied fruit. More rarely, other variations can be found, from shortbread-style crusts popular in Western France to those with alternate fillings, such as chocolat-poire (chocolate-pear) or raspberry.
The French have been serving up Galette des Rois since the 14th century. Although traditionally served on January 6th (the 12th day of Christmas) to celebrate Epiphany, a religious holiday marking the arrival of the Three Kings, today, the Galette des Rois is eaten throughout the month of January. Gathering around a galette has now become a festive way to celebrate the new year with family and friends, regardless of religious background.
But the pleasure brought by a Galette des Rois isn’t just due to its delicious taste. It’s also the anticipation of wondering who will be the lucky one to discover la fève, the small figurine hidden inside the cake. Tradition states that when slicing the cake, the youngest child present ducks under the table and calls out the name of the person to be served. This way the server can’t be accused of playing favorites! Because the stakes are high – if you find the fève, you’re ‘king (or queen) for a day’ and take your place in a 700-year old French tradition. After that, all you have to do is choose your royal counterpart and wear your crown proudly for the rest of the day!
And to add a touch of trivia to this little story – try to guess: Who’s the only person in France who can’t become king or queen while enjoying a Galette des Rois? The French President, of course! Out of respect for the values of the French Republic, the President can’t become a monarch, even if it’s just for fun. That’s why the giant cake served to the guests of the Elysée for Epiphany generally contains no fève.