Galette des Rois

Galette des Rois

I really wasn’t going to write again about this fabulous cake but as I sit here, at 11.00 am on a Sunday morning munching through a slice of slightly warm puff pastry and frangipane cake, I just can’t help it…

This is a wonderful tradition, and one which will live on in Reminiac purely because the cake tastes so good.

Inside of the Galette is placed a small ‘fève’ (bean in English) as the prize, and it usually is a small ceramic figurine.

The tradition:

1. Gather family and friends around a table.

2. The youngest person then crawls under the table. I now have some difficulty in persuading my youngest child, now 8 years old, to humour me, by performing this part of the tradition!

3. The oldest (or the most honest!) person then acts as the distributor. Not me, because I always wait until Joe, the child under the table, nominates who the slice is for and if it’s mine I give myself a whopping great slice!

4. The distributor then cuts the galette into slices and the person under the table nominates who should be served each slice.

5. The person who finds the ‘fève’ is the King and wears the crown!

Although traditionally this cake is eaten on 6th January, I ask myself: how can a cake as delicious as this be kept for just one day a year?

Talking about tradition, when you get together with your family to enjoy the Galette des Rois, do you ever ask yourself if you are actually respecting the full tradition?

Let’s share a bit of history

The galette des Rois was born in the 13th century and it was initially simply made with puff pastry and left to cook in the oven until it became crispy and golden. The idea of adding some frangipane to it to jazz it up was introduced in the 17th century.

Before being associated with Epiphany (meaning “apparition” in Greek), the Galette des Rois was a pagan festival called Saturnalia which the Romans invented. During the festivities, roles were reversed and slaves were given temporary freedom, including the right to drink and to eat food at a banquet served by their masters.

A real fève (bean) was inserted inside the galette and the slave who found it became “King for the day”. The idea of replacing a real fève with a ceramic one came from a German pastry cook during the 19th century.

Galettes des Rois
Galette des Rois

The tradition of the youngest person crawling under the table is also inherited from the Romans. This was an impartial way to distribute the pieces of cake among the diners.

Traditionally, an extra slice of cake was cut: it was called “part du Bon Dieu”, “part de la Vierge” or even “part du Pauvre” (“God’s slice”, “the Virgin Mary’s slice” or “the poor man’s slice”). It was intended for the first poor person to knock on the door, so none of the guests was allowed to eat it.

The custom of becoming king or queen for the day upon finding the fève is still very much alive and the lucky winner earns the privilege of wearing a crown on his/her head (mostly made of cardboard and quite often very greasy and buttery as it rests on top of the cake…) and being able to boss the family about for the day. The downside is that he/she is expected to pay for the next galette (some families have replaced that tradition with the obligation to buy champagne instead). Not a bad idea!

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