Yesterday was 12th night so Christmas is officially over, which may be a shame, but here in France things will linger on for a bit. The French start Christmas later than the English but they aren’t to worried about ending Christmas on the 12th night as the English. Christmas decorations will linger on until the end of January or into February on houses in the streets of towns and villages. Epiphany Cake or Galette des Rois (Galette of Kings) is eaten on Epiphany (the 6th January) and the days around it, and as it is popular with individuals as well as Boulangeries it will be around for a while yet.
Two versions of the cake exist. In the northern half of France the cake is called Galette des Rois and consists of flaky puff pastry layers with a dense center of frangipane.
In the south of France, particularly in Occitania and Roussillon, the cake, is called Gâteau des Rois and is a brioche with candied fruits.
Tradition holds that the cake is “to draw the kings” to the Epiphany. A trinket, la fève, which can represent anything from a car to a cartoon character, is hidden in the cake and the person who finds it in their slice becomes King or Queen for the day (well for the rest of the meal). Originally, la fève was literally a broad bean (fève), but they have been replaced by a variety of figurines out of porcelain or more recently plastic. The figures can be quite collectable and popular ones can fetch high prices on French ebay, etc. There are some photos of this year’s collectable feve’s in this post. French news ran an item recently on Boulangers in Paris and elsewhere vying for sales by putting gold ingots in their Galette des Rois for a few lucky customers.
The cakes are usually sold in special bags, some of which can be used to heat the cake in a microwave without ruining the cakes crispness. A paper crown is included with the cake to crown the King or Queen who finds the fève in their piece of cake.
To ensure a random distribution of the cake shares, it is traditional for the youngest person to place themselves under the table and name the recipient of the share which is indicated by the person in charge of the service. Shortly after we first arrived in France we where introduced to the tradition by French neighbours , our youngest son, Cynan, was dispatched under the table to do the honours, much to his embarrassment.
I recently found out that the President of France is not allowed to “draw the kings” on Epiphany because of etiquette, as it would be improper to crown a king inside the Elysée Palace. Therefore, a traditional galette without figurine and crown is served at Elysée Palace in January.
The galette pop’s up everywhere, boulangeries, the Marie (for new year drinks, a very civilised custom ) and of course school’s. Last year, Cynan who is now 17 and doesn’t particularly like Galette des Rois, told us that if they served one more galette at Lycee he would scream or puke. Amusingly he also said that the teacher’s response to a lucky pupil wearing a crown request that the teacher should address him as his royal highness for the afternoon was …. well unprintable.
It is possible to make your own Galette des Rois, but it is a lot of faffing around sorting ingredients, feve’s and crowns that this is one of those occasions where it is more sensible to grace your local Boulanger. Galette des Rois is not particularly frugal and truth be told not often very gourmet, but it is a lot of fun, and if you happen to be in France in January or early February you should give it ago, you might even find gold!
And finally as I can not give you a slice of galette, Je vais vous donner mon meilleurs voeux pour 2011.