The French Tradition of Galettes des Rois at Epiphany

Charlie Barr, who grew up in France, explains the French tradition of Galette des Rois which is enjoyed on the Epiphany (or basically any time in January).

The Epiphany is celebrated each year in French households. It’s on the 6th January, the day the three kings visited the infant Jesus bearing their gifts.

The tradition is fun for families: a ‘galette’ is baked – a beautifully shiny, puff pastry with a frangipane filling -and in this case it is called La Galette des Rois. (Click here for a recipe for making the cake which isn’t difficult. You just need puff pastry, ground almonds, sugar, egg and butter).

Inside the cake, the baker hides one or two fèves (small porcelaine figures, which these days are often comic characters), which are the object of every child’s desire.

When the much anticipated time comes, the Kings’ Cake is placed in the centre of the table and the youngest member of the party is sent to sit underneath. To ensure that no cheating can take place, child randomly calls the name of each eager participant (including themselves) as the pieces of galette are cut and distributed. My son was always extremely keen to get the fève himself and even under the table attempted to acheive this.

Once all the names have been called, the child joins the rest of the party and the slices of cake are distributed. Everyone tucks in to discover who has a fève in their slice.

The winner wears a card crown decorated to look like gold. Children and adults enjoy this ritual so much that French bakeries sell them throughout January, and kings are crowned many times over all of France.

A similar tradition is associated with English Wassailing, which also happens in the New Year around Epiphany time. The ceremony involves blessing fruit trees to ensure a good harvest and a couple who find a bean in their cake are crowned King and Queen of the Wassail.

Charlie Barr

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