The Christmas celebrations may be over but Twelfth night is yet to come. This date represents the date on which Christmas decorations are traditionally taken down and packed away for another year.
But Epithany, a Christian feastday falls on January 6 or, in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, on the Sunday between January 2 and January 8. It represents the day on which the Magii, the three kings arrived in Bethlehem to visit Baby Jesus.
As with so many such festivals, the French will mark this date by eating. The Galette des Rois, the King’s Cake, is a frangipane tart made with buttery puff pastry and is made throughout France to celebrate Epiphany.
Traditionally, a trinket known as a ‘fève’ is hidden inside the galette des rois in much the same way as a sixpence was hidden in an English plum pudding.
The finder of the fève is crowned king or queen for the day and has to wear the paper or cardboard crown that inevitably comes with cakes that are sold in boulangeries and supermarkets. The finder also has the less pleasurable responsibility of buying the galette the following year.
Regional galette des rois
You’ll find many variations of the King’s Cake in France. Each region puts its own spin on both the cake recipe and its main decoration.
In the south west of France, in addition to the galette des rois for Epithany, you are likely to see the ‘Tortell’, a Catalan O-shaped pastry stuffed with marzipan and topped with glazed fruit. Mmm!
In Provence, on the other hand, the galette des rois is an orange flower flavoured brioche also filled with candied fruits.
Alsace has to be different. In recent years they have broken with tradition by baking a savoury galette des rois. Oh the horror! They call it a ‘Tourte des Rois’ and it is filled with beef, chicken or lamb instead of frangipane! I know which version I prefer.
The galette des rois is quite easy to make yourself, especially if you use ready made puff pastry as recommended on the BBC Good Food website.
The galette des rois trinket
In past times, the fève that was hidden inside the frangipane was a porcelain, ceramic or precious metal bean.
But alas, times have changed and you are now more likely to find a somewhat disappointing small plastic cartoon character hidden inside.
This change of practice does however mean that the traditional charms are now collectors’ items and there is even a museum dedicated to preserving their place in French culture. At the Musée de Blaine near Nantes, over 2000 charms are now on display.
However, in 2010, one Parisian Pâtissier bucked the trend and hid a voucher for a diamond worth €2200 in one of his galettes a few years ago! You can bet his sales of galette des rois shot up.
If you have never tried a King’s cake before and you have a sweet tooth, do buy one from your local boulangerie if you are in France this month. They are of a far superior quality to the packaged galettes des rois that you can pick up in any supermarket.