It’s time for “La Galette des Rois”: Delicious (just don’t break a tooth!)

Epiphany is a Christian feast day (January 6th) celebrating the revelation of God as a human being in Jesus Christ.

In France, it’s perhaps primarily a wonderful excuse for everyone – Christian or otherwise – to get together to indulge in a traditionnal cake: La Galette des Rois (The Cake of the Kings).

0

In northern France (including Paris), La Galette des Rois is a round, flat, and golden cake (pictured above) made with flake pastry and filled with frangipane (an oozing marzipan-related cream), and fruit or chocolate. In the south (including Provence), a crown-shaped brioche cake filled with fruit called Le Gâteau des Rois is eaten.

Both types of cake contain a small charm, usually a porcelain figurine, called a fève (bean in French). The cake is cut by the youngest (and presumably most innocent?) person at the table to ensure that the recipient of the fève is random.

The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket becomes “King” (or “Queen”) and gets to wear a golden crown provided with the cake. This person often then volunteers to host the next King cake at their home, which is meerly a cunning ruse allowing festivities to be extended through all of January!

Always watching out for excuses to get together around cake and Champagne, the A La Carte Paris team got together last week in our office.

3Marc (marketing), Carole (investment & interior design), Alex (founder), Julie (operations director)

2

Carole (investment & interior design), Alex (founder), Julie (operations director)

Ostensibly because A La Carte is now present in both Paris and Provence (but mainly just because we love cake!), we indulged in BOTH types of cake, from Northern (upper cake in above photo) and Southern France (lower cake in above photo).

5Marc (marketing), Alex (founder), Julie (operations director), Suzie (rentals manager), Jacquie (rentals assistant), Annabelle (admin & accounting), Maria (interim accounting, as Annabelle is expecting a baby!)
4Carole (investment & interior design), Alex (founder), Julie (operations director), Marc (marketing)

Guess what happened next? Well… Jean-Eric was lucky enough to get BOTH fèves!!

1

Suzie: “Nooooooooo… That’s sooooooo unfair!” 🙂

You may have met Jean-Eric in your apartment, as he’s in charge of apartment logistics, quality and maintenance. Anyway, when you next see him, you might want to enquire about his teeth, as porcelain isn’t reputed to be very chewy! 😉

king-jean-eric2

King Jean-Eric! Hip hip hooray!!

This tradition of nominating a “King” on the 6th January dates back to antique Rome, when Master and Slave roles were inverted for that one day, during which the Slave would become “King”.

Now, there are no slaves at A La Carte Paris (even in peak season!)… which is how I defended not leaving Jean-Eric my place as CEO for the day!

That said, maybe one year (with an extra glass of Champagne) I might go along with the swap and see what happens!

So when you can, do try a Galette des Rois for yourself. It’s finger-licking-good – literally! 🙂

6

Finally, should you be interested in making your own Galette des Rois, here is a receipe by Paris pastry expert David Lebovitz.

Have you sampled either the northern Galette des Rois or southern Gateau des Rois? What did you think? Did your teeth survive winning the fève?

And I’m curious: how is Epiphany celebrated in your country and your state?

Do let me know in the comment box below, as custom seems to vary from country to country and even from state to state! Thanks.

For example, in Colorado, Epiphany is marked by the Great Fruitcake Toss. Participants dress as kings, queens and fools, and competitions are held for the farthest fruitcake throw, the most creative projectile device, etc. This is Christian festivity with humorous twist, as from what I understand fruitcake (although the traditional Christmas bread of America) is considered in the United States with a certain degree of derision, and is the source of many jokes – is that right?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks,

Alex

PHOTO CREDITS: The above photographs are courtesy Avril Dunoyer, who does all our apartment photographs and was with us for our little feast. Avril is a talented photographer and I would warmly recommend her should you want to have some portraits (or other photographs) taken during your stay in Paris, to make it even more memorable. Avril Dunoyer photographe: Portfolio & contact info.

21 Comments Add yours

  1. When I lived in Angers in 1983-84, the pâtisseries sold individual wedges of Gallettes des Rois, which was heavenly. If I remember correctly, the gallette was sold all year, not just around Epiphany. I could be mistaken. How long are the gallettes sold in Paris?

  2. Julie Garfield says:

    Yes, you are right about the attitudes of many towards fruitcake.

    1. Tonja says:

      I’ve never heard of anyone in California celebrating it at all. I made my first one this year!

  3. Patti says:

    I grew up in New Orleans and we celebrated with King Cake every year in anticipation of Mardi Gras! Our trinket in the cake is however a plastic baby. The same thing applies however, the receiptiant of the baby must host the next King Cake party. Great memories!

  4. Marci Hooper says:

    When I was a child, and into the late 1970’s, St. Dominic’s church in San Francisco used to have an Epiphany celebration & Procession in their lovely gothic church: candles distributed at the beginning of the evening, a wonderful choir, and a tableau on the altar of the Holy Family – then..the 3 kings arrived, with their bearers carrying the gifts, Followed by benediction, and the sharing of the altar light by lighting the candles of the congregation. Then the priests would come off the altar with the choir, and lead everyone through the church and out into the night singing Silent Night.
    It was a lovely ending to the season…lost when the school diminished & closed. No kids, no boys choir, no tall 8th grade boys to be kings, etc.

  5. Fred Walter says:

    It’s always such fun and I certainly eat one portion whenever I’m in Paris. Thank you for telling us the story of the galette:)

  6. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for sharing this fun story and pictures. It is nice to see the A La Carte team having some fun! Alex, you look like a great boss; wish I worked there! Here is to a happy 2014 to all.

  7. beverlyconey says:

    I didn’t mean my reply to be anonymous. It is not a secret–I am a big fan of A La Carte Paris. Cheers! From Beverly in the USA

  8. Lesley says:

    What fun you all look to be having, the cakes look simply delicious.
    I am unaware of this celebratory cake in NZ. Epipheny is celebrated but not the cake. Perhaps a new trend can be set! See you in April A La Carte team.

  9. Sharron says:

    Thank you for sharing history and recipe for Gallete des Rois
    Enjoyed your article

  10. Alex, I look forward to every contact from A La Carte. It is wonderful to watch your team and business grow. Yes, the fruit cake does face many comments to the negative in the USA. When in Germany a few months ago someone suggested we take one of their fruit cakes home. We politely declined 🙂 Perhaps we should have tried a piece first. Unfortunately the ceremonial celebrations for Epipheny are not practiced as often here as in some areas. This gives me great ideas for next
    January or perhaps later this month. We all love reasons to celebrate……

  11. Yvonne Hudacek says:

    I just loved the story of this fun tradition for which we have nothing to equal it in Australia. Alas I am diabetic and forbidden cake and champagne, but would love to be able to share the celebration anyway. While in Paris in 2012 my partner and myself enjoyed wonderful meals, and he looked forward to famous pattiserie’s on the famous boulevardes…everywhere, a happy frisson of delight.

  12. Jenny Williams says:

    I belong to the local (small) branch of the Alliance francaise, called the Assocation francaise, in Hawke’s Bay (New Zealand). We celebrated la galette des rois a couple of weeks ago – everyone was asked to make and bring a galette! So we tried each other’s; rather too much of a feast! Most were traditional northern France ones with frangipane as a filling; a couple had fruit. They were all good! Strangely, no-one scored a feve. I made my first galette: it was remarkably easy, and I took it with us, hot out of the oven……. Needless to say, there were a lot of partly-eaten galettes taken home again and enjoyed. A delicious festival!
    Jenny Williams

  13. Anonymous says:

    thanks for info. Dave Martenson Arizona

  14. Jane Stowell says:

    I, too, lived in New Orleans where King Cakes are cultural icons. January 6, Epiphany, marks the beginning of Carnival Season and is ushered in with King Cake parties in school rooms and offices. The cakes are oval sweet pastry type breads gaily decorated with purple, green and gold frosting or sugar crystals. King Cake parties continue all through Carnival season during which time Carnival Krewes stage parades through many neighborhoods on elaborately decorated floats. Carnival season lasts from Epiphany to Mardi Gras Day (fat Tuesday), the last day to indulge in merriment and gastronomic excess before the first day of Lent. Many Christians avoid sweets and other indulgences during Lent as a way to participate in Christ’s passion and death before they celebrate the Resurrection on Easter.

  15. I enjoyed reading the story of the Epiphany. We attended Mass on the Sunday which was sung by the parish choir. Our grandaughter her mother and grandmother were at the Mass my c
    cousin was also at the church so we had a happy time although not as tasty as your special cake. Regards Maureen.

  16. Marie Wade says:

    We live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (about 60 miles northwest of New Orleans) and king cakes are a big tradition here. This is Cajun country, heavily populated with descendants of the French Acadians who settled here centuries ago. Up until about 20 years ago, many Cajuns still spoke French as well as English. The Epiphany is commonly referred to as “Twelfth Night,” because it is the twelfth night after Christmas. It marks the beginning of the Mardi Gras season that ends on the day before Ash Wednesday, when the Catholic season of Lent begins. Since Lent is seen as a time of fasting in preparation of Easter, Mardi Gras is a time of partying and indulgence. Parties are held on twelfth night, and king cake is served. For the entire Mardi Gras season, king cakes are sold in every grocery store and bakery. Here they are a sweet yeast dough filled with either cream or fruit filling, baked shaped in a ring and decorated in purple, gold and green. Instead of a porcelain charm, our king cakes have a small plastic baby doll tucked inside. Whoever gets the baby is the “king” which usually means they get to bring the next king cake. I’ve made several of them, but am now looking forward to try making the Parisian version soon.

    I love your blogs. Keep them coming.
    Marie Wade

  17. Sephora says:

    I lived in the Nord back in 1989 and I was lucky enough to receive the fève in my first ever galette des Rois. Visiting friends in France 10 years later, I got my second fève! The crowns are long gone, but my fèves have travelled with me through many countries and houses, and they are currently stuck to my pantry door! On 6 January 2010 I was blessed to welcome my own beautiful baby boy, whom we are taking to France next year for his first galette des Rois experience 🙂

  18. Richard le Sage says:

    I am coming late in life to fruitcake. Allow me to explain. I can confirm the several references to the fact that in the U.S of A, for some reason, fruitcake is considered outré and the butt of many jokes–particularly a certain one, with the eponymous name, made in Claxton, Georgia. Families actually pass and hide one of their fruitcakes from year to year, springing it upon family members as a joke to be “given” or foisted off on the next family member surreptitiously..
    But it appears no one doing that has ever tasted them. Allow me to explain.
    One day, having been given one, I took a slice. I found it was dark. Moist. Sweet. Redolent of fruits, nuts, molasses, with just enough pastry to bind those ingredients together.
    I then grabbed a large snifter of brandy and the rest, as they say, is history.
    Lesson: give yourself up to the deliciousness of the fruitcake and what I can only imagine is the wondrousness of the Galette des Rois.. Fellow Americans, forget our Calvinistic history that forbids pleasure, unwrap that fruitcake, Galette–or anything else that brings pleasure that you may care to unwrap!–and. Indulge.

  19. Marcela says:

    I really enjoyed the story as well as having the opportunity to meet you all through the very artistic photograhs! Thank you! Marcela from buenos Aires, argentina

  20. Sue Walsh says:

    La Galette des Rois looks absolutely delicious, but does one have to wait until January to experience it? I certainly hope not as we won’t be there until July…oh hurry on July!

Please share your thoughts and comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s