Thursday, January 5, 2017

La Galette des Rois Or The Kings' Cake

Galette des Roi, known in English as the King Cake or the Kings' Cake, is a famous French dessert traditionally prepared on the Twelfth Night (January 5th) or the Christian holiday of Epiphany (January 6th) to celebrate the visit of three Wise Men (the Magi or Kings) to the newly born Baby Jesus.

The King Cake tradition began some three hundred years ago with a rather simple sugar-covered bread, but most probably has its roots in the Roman feast of Saturnalia. A single broad bean (la fève) was inserted before baking. The lucky person who found the bean in his or her slice of cake would become a Bean King or Queen and would reign over the feast. The reign would end at midnight before Epiphany.

With time, king cake recipes became more sophisticated. Around 1870 bakers replaced the broad bean with a trinket called la fève like the bean it replaced.  The trinket usually was a small figurine representing Baby Jesus, a King, or the Wise Men. The season for the cake would last from the Twelfth Night till the end of the Carnival on Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras.

The cake was usually cut into as many portions as guests, plus one for the unexpected visitor, to show generosity, charity and benevolence in the best Christian tradition. That extra slice was called a share of God, or a share of Virgin Mary. 

There are many versions of the cake, depending on the country or the region where the cake is baked. Two versions are popular in France today: one that uses puff pastry and frangipane (almond pastry cream) and another that is made out of brioche-like dough and is topped with colorful candied fruit and sugar. Pastry shops usually sell the king cake with a paper crown for the person who finds the trinket.

Eastern or Orthodox Churches celebrate the birth of Jesus on January 6th. I some parts of Europe (Poland, for example) Epiphany is also the last day people enjoy the Christmas tree. All the lights and decorations are taken down the next day and the trees are tossed away. The magic of Christmas may be gone, but there are at least a few more weeks to enjoy during the Carnival.

Dominique Allmon

Image source here