Every year on January 6, the French and other French-speaking countries celebrate the Epiphany. The Epiphany is a religious holiday that marks the three wise men (or three kings) coming to visit the baby Jesus after his birth. The French typically celebrate by gathering together with friends and family to enjoy a delicious Galette des Rois or King Cake.
Where to get a galette des rois
People either bake a galette themselves or buy one. Bakeries and supermarkets in France and Belgium usually start stocking them right after New Year’s Day. Each cake will come with two very important things.
- A paper crown (sometimes child-sized)
- A bean or fève
When it comes time to cut and serve the cake, whoever gets the piece containing the fève is crowned king or queen and gets to adorn the little paper crown.
The tradition of serving galette des rois
If there are children at your galette des rois gathering, then one of them will hide under the table and call out who gets the first slice of galette. And if my good-natured French boyfriend, attempting to teach me about French traditions, is present, he’ll hide under the table too. This makes the serving fair and adds a bit more fun for kids (and my boyfriend). The fève traditionally was a real bean baked into the galette, but now it’s a small porcelain figurine.
Galette des rois outside of France
The type of cake that revelers eat depends on what part of France or another country they’re in. The classic galette des rois resembles more of a flaky, frangipane pastry than a cake. In the south of France, the gâteau des rois reigns, which is a brioche ring covered in candies or fruit. In francophone Belgium, it’s also called a gâteau des rois, but it more or less looks like the traditional cake you find in northern France. They also eat galette des rois on the Epiphany in French-speaking parts of Switzerland, Québec, and Luxembourg.
The king cake is also a culinary tradition in New Orleans, but it’s fashioned as a ring and covered in icing with purple, green, and gold decoration. Instead of celebrating the Epiphany, it’s made for Mardi Gras. The Louisiana king cake also has a fève, but it’s usually a small figurine resembling a baby. And whoever gets the baby is not crowned king or queen, but is saddled with the responsibility of making next year’s king cake.
You can eat galette des rois more than once!
Although the Epiphany is technically the 6th of January, 12 days after Christmas, people get together and eat galette more than a couple of times during the week. In my initiate year of this tradition, I consumed galette three different times. You can find traditional galettes or themed ones. I’ve seen Pokémon galettes des rois which have different Pokémon fèves, encouraging you to buy more cakes so you can catch ‘em all.
Celebrating the Epiphany is a fun tradition centered around eating a pastry – it’s French, after all. And it only falls a few weeks after the holidays, a time of the year when most of us eat too much. The Epiphany is also a religious tradition that’s not so much about religion anymore but still widely celebrated – it is France, after all.
Want to learn more about French gastronomy? Read about French wine tasting!
Make your own galette des rois
If you want to partake in this tradition this year but won’t be able to find a galette des rois anywhere, then make your own! There’s a recipe for a classic frangipane galette des rois here. This recipe is from the French culinary brand Marmiton, so you’re assured it’ll be authentic. The link takes you to the website in French, but there’s a video and I’ve translated it into English below. Hope you enjoy!
Link is in French, English version is below
- 2 sheets of puff pastry dough
- 140g almond powder
- 100g sugar
- 2 eggs
- 75g softened butter
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 fève (or figurine!)
- Place one sheet of puff pastry dough in a pie tin, poke the dough with a fork.
- In a mixing bowl, mix the almond powder, sugar, eggs, and butter. Once combined, spread mixture over the puff pastry dough in a pie tin. Hide the fève in the mixture.
- Cover with the second sheet of puff pastry dough, pressing the edges of the two sheets of dough together firmly.
- Use a knife to gently trace a design on the dough. It usually resembles a type of snowflake. (See the video for an example).
- Brush some egg yolk over the top of the dough.
- Bake for 30 minutes at 200° C (395° F).