Sat Jan 6th, 2007 at 05:21:40 AM EST
Fête des Rois - La Galette des Rois
Epiphany in France and Galette des Rois
Right now all over France, people are cutting into sweet cakes, gingerly taking bites, and squealing with delight when they find a tiny porcelain figure in amongst the butter, sugar, and frangipane. It's Epiphany season, and in France that is cause for celebration in the form of a very special cake called the Galette des Rois, or Cake of Kings.
Although Epiphany is January sixth, the season begins before Christmas and stretches for a month. Patisserie and boulangerie shelves fill with galettes des rois, which differ according to geography. In the north of France, the galette is a flat, shiny round of puff pastry usually filled with frangipane. In the south of France, it is brioche dough, scented with lemon zest and sometimes orange flower water. In Brittany, galettes resemble shortcake and are fragrant with creamy Breton butter. All galettes contain a fève, or tiny porcelain figurine, and each comes with a gaily colored cardboard "crown," which sits on the head of whoever gets the fève.
Normally, the custom of hiding a bit of fancifully decorated porcelain in a cake could be a health hazard -- or at the very least a dental nightmare -- but nothing of the sort is ever brought up here. Instead, the flow of traffic to bakeries and pastry shops is heavier than usual, as people line up for their galettes. They are really lining up for the fèves, which have become highly collectible. They can range from tiny cobalt blue, gilt-edged tea and coffee sets (each galette contains a piece of the set so one is obliged to buy several in hopes of obtaining the entire set), to sports or cartoon characters, witches, goblins, or saints.
History has it that the cardinals of Besançon, near Dijon, originated the tradition of galette de rois in the 14th century. To choose a chapter head, they held a sort of lottery at Epiphany that consisted of hiding a coin in a loaf of bread. Whoever got the coin was awarded the post. Over the years, the bread evolved into brioche, the coin became a fève (literally a bean), and the custom spread throughout the land.
Whoever recieves the little favor is then crowned king/queen for the day. Tradition also dictates that the cake be cut into as many slices as there are people present, plus 1 extra. The extra piece is called either, part du Bon Dieu(God's piece), part de la Vierge (the Virgin Mary's piece) or part du pauvre (poor man's piece) and it is given to the first poor person who stops at the home.
Who will become king or queen for the day at your house? Bake a galette and have a little fun with the family. Make a foil crown to place atop the cake before eating it. Here are 3 recipes and a variation!
Galette des Rois: a traditional recipe made with almond paste
Galette des Rois: made with ground almonds
Kings Cake: from New Orleans
Pithiviers is also an almond filled tart, but here is a variation with a hazelnut and chocolate filling for the chocoholics among you.
How do you celebrate or do you celebrate at all ?