Right when you think you have eaten enough, this is when the Galette des Rois or King Cake makes its appearance. Right after the Christmas and New Year’s feasts, for two weeks in January, we get to enjoy this cake especially baked for the Epiphany — and be the King for the day.
Why the Epiphany?
This religious fest is celebrated on January sixth, exactly twelve days after the birth of Jesus. Its origins are the result of a mix of christian and pagan celebrations. During the antiquity, it was to celebrate Dionysos and the renewal of nature. Linked to the Saturnales fest in the Roman Empire, it honored Saturn, connected to agriculture and seeds, but also family ties. The first Christian communities in the Orient started to associate this fest with the period following the nativity, celebrating the apparition of the savour just like the three kings men did. In Occident, the Epiphany rapidly replaced the ancient roman and pagan fests with a celebration around a special cake, the Galette des Rois. During the XIII and XIV centuries, the tradition was to share a galette with all guests, one piece being saved for the poor. The cake would be round and golden, like the sun. In the Middle Age, it would be shared with friends and neighbors.
What about the bean inside?
- In ancient Rome, during a feast, a king would be chosen using a white or black bean. In the same manner, at the time of the Saturnales, a King would be picked within a household for one day and all his wishes would be granted. The youngest of the family, being the most innocent, would be responsible for designating the receiver of each piece. Nowadays, the youngest goes under the table with the same delicate mission.
- The bean became a porcelain fava bean during the XVIII century. They first represented baby Jesus under the Christian influence. After the French Revolution, they took on different representations, political, cultural or regional.
- With the arrival of plastic, it became the object of all desires, used for advertising or even as a collectible.
Which cake where?
- In southern France, the Gateau des Rois is a ring-shaped brioche cake crowned with candied fruits and sugar pieces.
- The pastry-like cake with a rich almond frangipane filling, named for a time La Parisienne is very popular in the Paris region and in northern France.
- In Mexico, the Roscoe de Reyes is similar to a fruitcake or panettone but oval or circular shaped.
- In Portugal, the Bolo Rei is a sweet dessert bread topped with dried and candied fruit. A coin or fava bean is hidden inside.
What to drink with the Galette?
A sweet white wine such as a Gewurztraminer from Alsace or a cider from Brittany are well suited.
So, are you ready to be the King and have all your wishes granted, at least for one day?