Thursday, January 7, 2010

Galettes du Roi - King Cakes - for Epiphany

Every year, on and around 6 January, all over France, people are munching les galettes du roi (king cakes), wonderful round flaky pastries stuffed with frangipane, a creamy almond paste. School kids are sampling them in French classes; families are sharing them for dessert; friends are getting together to eat them with champagne; and everyone is hoping that he or she will become king or queen for the day.

You see, every French galette comes with a tiny ceramic figurine baked right inside. This trinket - called a fève, meaning, bean, due to the fact that once upon a time it was a bean – represents the seed that grows from deep within fertile ground, symbolized by the cake, that will bring about a bountiful harvest in the year to come as well as good fortune for all, especially the person who happens to chomp down on it. Whoever finds the fève in their slice of galette is declared king (or queen) for the day and gets to wear the gold paper crown that comes with the purchase of every French galette du roi.

It would appear, with its links to nature and the harvest and the earth’s seasonal rotations, that this special day in the French calendar is pagan in origin. But today, it marks the Christian celebration of Epiphany, or Twelfth Night: the day, long ago, when three wise men found their way by the light of a very bright star to the makeshift bed of a particular child in a manger in a barn in Bethlehem.

We spent January 6th at the home of the family-of-boys-dogs-cats-and-Mom with another family of mutual friends. Between the 11 of us, we consumed two large galettes and produced both a king and a queen. Following popular tradition, the youngest child crawled under the table and from there announced, one by one, who would get each slice of galette. He received the last slice. Then, we all ate, slowly, savoring the delectable combination of buttery pastry and hot almond paste available in French boulangeries only one time each year. Eventually, royalty was proclaimed among one of the three mothers present as well as the eldest teenage boy. And toasts to a healthy and prosperous year followed.

If you happen to be in France during the feast of Epiphany, do grab yourself a galette du roi. They come in all sizes – even a single portion. And they are really very, very good!


Artisanal galette, Gorrk, 3 Janvier 2008, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Brioche of the Magi with candied fruit, typical galette of southeast France, David Monniaux, 2005, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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