Kings and Cakes: la Galette des Rois
In the early days of January, we take out the cardboard crowns and choose a new king or queen.
France doesn’t have the best relationship with royalty; “it’s complicated”, but for one day we don’t care, because la Galette des Rois is really tasty!
Today we talk about yet another French tradition that involves eating together with friends and family.
Et toi ?
Do you eat a King Cake for this day?
Have you ever tasted a French galette des Rois?
What other customs of your country involve traditional food?
Bonus Material: Download the Transcript
Salut c’est Géraldine, bienvenue sur Comme une Française TV, Sound French, even to the French!
In the early days of January, yet another occasion to get together around the dining table and eat! We take out some cardboard crowns and choose a new king or queen for a day; although in France we have a complicated relationship with royalty.
But for one day we don’t care, because la Galette des Rois is really tasty!
Let’s dive in!
- La tradition
La tradition , tradition, of this day celebrates l’Épiphanie the Epiphany, the day when les Rois Mages, the three Magis or three kings visited baby Jesus to give him presents. It takes place on the 6th of January.
But most of the actual customs for the day, such as the cake and choosing a king, date back to pagan Roman times. It’s been used by the Christian church for centuries, but nowadays it’s been mostly secularised again… Mostly because it’s a tasty cake. La Galette des Rois is present in public schools, some professional canteens as well and even in a special reception at L’Élysée, the residence of our President of the Republic.
- La galette
At the center of the day, there is la galette des Rois, the Kings’ galette.
It’s a special cake filled with layers of la frangipane , a filling made of sugar, butter, eggs and ground almonds.
That’s the most common recipe, at least. In the South of France, they also use a cake made of brioche.
In all cases, traditionally, inside the cake is baked une fève, “a bean." Nowadays it’s often a small figurine in porcelain, sometimes plastic. For marketing reasons, it often represents a character in a new movie or a cultural icon, but it can be more neutral as well. Some people collect these small trinkets; this collection is called la fabophilie, the passion of collecting les fèves.
When eating the galette in family, the youngest child gets to hide under the table when someone is cutting the cake. The child is then asked who gets each slice, as they are cut. When we get to finally eat the cake, someone will find la fève in their slice, and they’re the new king or queen ! They get to wear the cardboard crown that is often sold with the galette.
This tradition is called tirer les Rois , to pick the kings at random.
For simplicity, when a small enough child or a tall enough table isn’t available, we just pick the slices at random ourselves.
During the special reception at le palais de l’Élysée , the Elysée palace in Paris with the President, there’s no bean put in the cake, since it would be in bad taste to pick a King for the Republic!
In the rest of the country, we don’t have such qualms; we can buy the galette with bean and crowns in any supermarket or, better, at la boulangerie without a problem.
You can buy a galette for six in a boulangerie for around twenty euros.
- Autour de la galette
Autour de la galette, around the galette, you’ll find some really old history.
Picking a new King with a bean in a cake was already a popular tradition in ancient Rome and Babylon. They even had a child choosing from under the table!
Picking a new King for one day is also close to the spirit of Carnival, or more likely the medieval Fête des Fous, the feast of fools, a wild popular party in early January. That day, all around the city, the people and the church drank and danced, and the mob chose their one-day Pope. This party used to happen right up until the 16th century. Three centuries later, Victor Hugo used it to open his great novel Notre-Dame de Paris, the story of the hunchback Quasimodo.
But the great question that truly links us together culturally, through time and space, is really this mystery of life: Why is the bean always under your knife when you cut the cake??
Open your eyes next time, and tell me if it happens to you too!
Et toi ? Do you eat a King Cake for this day? Have you ever tasted a French galette des Rois? Whatich other customs of your country involve traditional food?
Tell me in the comments section., I want to hear from you! If you’re on Youtube, you’ll find a link below this video to the blog CommeUneFrançaise.com: on the site I read all the comments and answer all your questions too!
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Bonus Material: Download the Transcript