Let me introduce you to galette des rois. This pastry celebration cake is a tradition that goes back around 300 years. It’s eaten throughout France although there are regional differences in the recipes used. In some parts of France the cake is made of either sweetcrust pastry or brioche. In Normandy and other parts of northern France, the traditional cake is made with flaky puff pastry filled with frangipane.
Galette des rois translates as king cake, king’s cake, kings’ cake or king’s tart. It’s associated with Epiphany and eaten from the 6th January onwards. After Christmas, New Year and 12th night the typical fare of oysters and foie gras is replaced with a sweet treat. In my part of Normandy you can buy them throughout January. They are sold in boulangeries and pâtisseries although I’ve also noticed that supermarkets also sell them. As well as the usual frangipane filling, you can also find pear, apple or chocolate varieties. The cakes are available in different sizes too. So, whether you want an individual cake or the more common size to serve either 6 or 12 people, you can make your choice.
How Do You Serve A Galette Des Rois?
You buy the cake already cooked and heat it up to serve it warm. When you buy one of the larger cakes you also received a paper crown and there’s a charm hidden inside the pastry. These charms are known as fèves and were originally broad beans. Over the centuries they’ve been replaced with a porcelain or plastic charm.
Many bakeries have their own range or theme for the charms and they’re considered collectors items by some people. I have seen Christian Dior charms in previous years as the Dior museum is in nearby Granville. In 2016 Normandy hosted the first three stages of the Tour de France and therefore the January 2016 charms were related to the Tour.
Who gets the piece of cake with the charm inside? It’s the youngest member of the family that has the honour of deciding who gets which piece of cake. He or she hides under the table so there’s no chance of them spotting the charm when the cake is cut. It’s a pretty random method as there’s a benefit to getting the cake with the charm inside. The recipients gets to wear the paper crown and is named king or queen for the day.
It’s usually served with champagne, sparkling wine or cider. Many associations and clubs also have an event to eat the cakes. They’re also popular at January events held in each village. The mayor invites residents to an event to review the preceding year and look forward to the next. These events are very much a part of celebrating the New Year.
If you’d like to try your hand at making a galette des rois, then take a look at Raymond Blanc’s video.