From the first of January until sometime towards the end of the month, the boulangeries across France are laden with delicious patisseries called the ‘Galette des Rois’ (Cake of Kings). Strictly speaking the galette should be eaten at Epiphany or ‘twelth night’ to celebrate the gifts of the wise men, or ‘kings’ who brought their gifts to the baby Jesus. The tradition has mutated somewhat to encompass whichever day during January one chooses to savour this delicious gateau because quite frankly, once is not enough!
The galette varies from region to region, most commonly a puff pastry filled with Frangipan, though it has many varients, including apricot and Grand Marnier, chocolate, frangipan and red fruits, and crème Anglaise. To the west, the pastry is more usually shortcrust, and to the south a brioche with candied or dried fruits. I’d be inclined to say that here in Normandy we are treated with the best version, the traditional Pâte Feuillettée.
I passed some pleasant moments with my nose pressed up against the counter of my local patisserie wondering which tempted me most!
Inside every Galette is hidden a ‘fève’ , the exact translation of which is a bean. The fève appeared in the 18th century in the form of a porcelain representation of the baby Jesus. Whoever received the hidden figurine in their slice of the gateau became a king for the day irrelevant his or her age or status within the party. Since then the fève has become something of a collectors item, with various themes on offer. ‘La Fornil de la Gare’, another boulangerie in my Quartier lays them all out on display throughout the month of January, and it’s fun to see what’s on offer!
Last year there was a general obsession for Fèves in the shape of shoes!
This year we will just have to wait and see!
The crown is an essential element in the ‘making of the king’. They were all piled up on the counter at ‘Yvonne’s’ Patisserie ready for the event!
During the revolution, the very name ‘Galette des Rois’ put the patisserie in danger. An attempt was made to change the name to the ‘Galette de l’Egalité’ and the ‘Convention National’, the ruling assembly in France at the time of the revolution, attempted to forbid the fabrication of the patisserie itself. At the tribunal, the Galette triumphed. A short time afterwards the Convention National changed the name of the day from the ‘Jour des Rois’ (the day of Kings) to the ‘Jour des sans-culottes’, translated literally as ‘without short trousers, and referring to the revolutionaries who were defined by their long striped trousers, and the Galette des Rois lost its ‘raison d’être’. Its disappearance was only momentary however, and it quickly reappeared on the tables as soon as the circumstances permitted.
The circumstances are certainly very permitting in France nowadays, and I hurried home to cook my own!
Forty-five minutes later my Galette Frangipane is piping hot from the oven.
We had a little argument on whether to leave it to cool or eat it straight away. Although my boys prefer it cold we found that we really couldn’t wait!
What is probably not appreciated about this patisserie is that the containment of the hidden fève leads to serious competition over who gets which slice. It is not unknown for hitherto calm and rational families to decend into complete anarchy as each individual vies for the opportunity to become king for the day. The french of course have come up with a solution!
The smallest and youngest member of the party finds himself placed under the table with the responsibility for calling out the name of each family member in no particular order to receive their slice. Since the small person cannot see the patisserie there is no chance of cheating, unless of course one of the other family members has seen a glimpse of the fève and gives him a sharp kick under the table. But I imagine the squawk would probably give the game away!
and the king for the day is…
But thankfully he’s forgotten to order us about, and is right now clearing the plates from the table still wearing his crown!