The 6th of January is a special day in France, it is the 12th day of Christmas, the date of the Epiphany and most importantly the day when all over France the cake known as Galette des Rois is traditionally served.
This flaky cake known as the King’s Tart is a piece of French gastronomic history which goes back as far as the 14th century, though for a short while during the turmoil of the French Revolution it was called the “Gâteau de l’egalité” as any reference to royalty was frowned upon.
The cake is made of a seriously buttery puff pastry, filled with almond paste, baked and often decorated beautifully with candied fruit. Patisseries and boulangeries compete to create the most magnificent of cakes and supermarket shelves will be heaving with boxed Galette des Rois from the end of December.
The Galette des Rois is a reminder of the Three Kings in the bible story – Melchior, Balthasar and Caspar are remembered around the world on the eve of Epiphany on their journey to Bethlehem. In remembrance, in France, a little figurine called a ‘fève’ is hidden in the galette des rois cake. In olden days it would traditionally be a baby Jesus but these days it could be anything from Lady Gaga to Harry Potter and even tiny designer handbags!
Tradition says that whoever has a slice of the cake with the ‘fève’ in is the King or Queen for a day and gets to wear a golden crown which comes with the cake when you buy it. In some homes – the cake is cut beforehand into slices according to how many people are present. In times gone by, families might cut an extra slice called “la part du Bon Dieu” (God’s piece) or “la part de la Vierge” (the Virgin Mary’s piece). The extra slice was given to the poor. Often, the youngest person at the meal sits under the table and calls out the names of those seated and slices of cake are served accordingly. That way whoever gets the ‘fève’ is completely randomly chosen!
When the cake is served tension mounts, everyone chews their slice with an element of care – it wouldn’t do after all to swallow the ‘fève’!