If you are fortunate to be in France at the start of the new year, the odds of you being invited to a friend’s house to eat a Galette Des Rois are very high.
I’ve been invited twice already to spend an evening with friends and their family to eat this pastry that has significant religious and cultural meaning for the French. What is a Galette Des Rois, or King’s Cake, you ask? You’ll soon find out!
While the Galette Des Rois goes back into antiquity with various meanings and purposes, to the modern day French person – Catholic or not – the Galette Des Rois is made to mark the celebration of the feast of the Epiphany – that is, the Christian belief that marks the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who has manifested as a human being and the following visitation from the Magi or the three kings who followed a star to find the baby Jesus after which they offer gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts represent who the Christ child is to the world: the Gold meaning He is the King, the frankincense which is a resin with meditative and spiritual qualities used by priests to represent that He is the priest, and the myrrh is a resin used for its healing properties and was used by the ancient Egyptians as an embalming additive therefore representing that Jesus – the ultimate sacrifice – has come to die for our sins. The Epiphany is recognized on January 6, the twelfth day after the birth of Christ.
Hidden inside the cake is a fève or bean – it can either be a baby Jesus or a little King or whatever the baker desires – made of ceramic. The youngest person of the group must sit under the table and decide which part goes to which guest to ensure a fair chance of getting the fève to all at the table. Whoever gets the fève in their piece of cake gets to be King of The Day and gets to wear a paper crown as a symbol of their royalty. Traditionally, whoever gets the fève must make the cake the following year, but not everybody does this as these cakes can be store bought.
The cake itself is made of pie dough filled an almond paste and is dressed with egg glaze and syrup to make it shine. Some people like to put fruit in or on theirs and the recipes can vary. I’m not a big fan of the almond paste, which the French call frangipane. I made the mistake once of calling it “frang-ee-peen” and everyone exploded in laughter. It was the joke for the rest of the evening.
The French enjoy this annual tradition in the company of friends and family and if you are invited to a soiree de Galette Des Rois, consider yourself lucky as your French friends think highly enough of you to welcome the new year with you by their side. Usually, the French serve champagne, cider, and other fruit based beverages with the cake. A typical soirée involves sitting around a table or in someone’s salon taking about resolutions, hopes and plans for the new year, and life in general. These events are pretty fun and personally revealing if you let them, I know I do.
Mes meilleurs voeux pour la nouvelle année! My best wishes for the new year!
Watch how a French chef makes the Galette Des Rois. It’s pretty simple!