As we begin a new year, the arrival of January brings the French sweet tradition of la‘Galette des Rois’ or the ‘King Cake’. This tradition of my cultural and familial heritage started in the 14th century and has become a national obsession in France.
The King Cake used to be served on January 6th to celebrate the Christian tradition of Epiphany which is the day the Three Kings arrived to bring gifts to Jesus in the manger. Over the centuries, it has come to be celebrated in France, regardless of religious background, throughout the whole month of January.
There is great joy when this flaky cake comes warm from the oven, but it’s not only because of the taste. People are also excited to know who will be the lucky one to discover ‘la fève’ (originally a bean and now a tiny charm) buried inside la Galette. The person who discovers the fèvewill be declared the King or the Queen and will wear a golden paper crown, feeling part of this 700-year old French tradition!
A major concern every year is to avoid cheating. To prevent any accusation, the entire cake is divided in a way that each guest receives the same size slice. And, in most families, the youngest child slips underneath the table and calls out each person’s name, one by one, to designate who will receive each slice! That way the server can’t be accused of playing favorite. As you can see, this is serious business!
La Galette is typically made of ‘pate feuilletée’, or puff pastry, and is stuffed with frangipane, a dense creamy almond paste. In the south of France, you will also find brioche covered with candied fruit. Today all the famous bakers create their own variations. Really, all cakes made in France in January will have a fève hidden inside!
To find ‘une Galette’, look for a French bakery in your area.I have wonderful memories of this tradition from growing up in France and love continuing it with my family and friends here in Canada.
Oh yes, it’s good to be the King or the Queen!