In France throughout the month of January (and into February too), pretty much every bakery carries Galette des Roi, which translates to King Cake. I’m told January 6th is the official King Cake day, but it was also made clear to me that you can enjoy a King Cake celebration any day, all month long.
Though the tradition stems from the Catholic Day of Epiphany and is tied to the Nativity Story and the Three Kings, we’ve attended several King Cake gatherings over the years and we’ve never heard anyone mention Epiphany or the Three Kings, so it seems like one of those traditions that has become pretty secular.
The way it works in France (at least in Normandy), starts with the baker, who bakes a “fève” into the cake, and includes a paper crown with each purchase of Galette des Roi. Fève translates as bean, but they don’t really use beans. Instead, they use tiny ceramic figurines. The fèves can be anything — people, symbols, Pokemon, animals, etc.. Whoever gets the fève in their slice of cake, is crowned King.
Here’s a peek at the little Galette des Roi celebration we had at home:
The tradition we were taught is that the youngest person gets under the table. As the cake is sliced, they call out who gets each slice. The idea is to prevent any cheating, in case one slice seems to be likely to have the fèves. (Though it’s also helpful if you want to make sure the youngest wins the fèves.) Tradition also says that whoever wins the crown is in charge of buying the next Galette des Roi.
When it’s not a pandemic, and towns all over France host Vide Greniers (community tag sales), it’s easy to find someone with a jar full of fèves they’ve collected over the years. It’s fun for anyone to comb through the jar and pick out their favorite. Each fève typically costs just a few centimes and they make a happy little souvenir. Here’s a closeup of some of the fèves we’ve collected:
Galette des Roi are pretty to look at, and they’re flaky and delicious too. In Normandy, Galette des Roi usually have Frangipane (almond) filling, but you can also find Pomme (apple) filling in this region — pomme will typically have leaves on the top. I’ve heard other regions offer other varieties.
Have you ever eaten Galette des Roi? Or perhaps you live in a region/country outside of France where they eat some version of King Cake? This tradition is not something I grew up with at all. In fact, I wasn’t aware of King Cake until we moved to France the first time. But I sure like it. It’s simple and sweet and fun.
12 thoughts on “Galette Des Roi”
In the Episcopal Church, which is also a liturgical church and celebrates most of the same days as Catholics, January 6 is indeed Ephiphany or the day Jesus was manifested to the Gentiles, represented by the three Kings. When we made Kings cakes, they had to be decorated with three different colored sugars – purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. I have to say, though, that yours looks a lot more appetizing.
I live right next door to Mexico and we have Rosca de Reyes – Kings’ cake. Inside the cake (a drier, breaker cake like pan dulce) there are baby Jesus figurines. If you get one, you have to bring tamales to work to share on Feb. 2nd, Candelaria. My father is Italian, and growing up we celebrated the Epiphany with a visit from La Befana. She would leave treats in our shoes in her search for baby Jesus. Funny, I’m not religious but Iove these celebrations and we do them with our kids now.
We lived in France for a year when our daughter was 5. It was her turn to choose dessert at the bakery. When I was slicing the cake, she said “I hope I find a toy in my slice”, we were surprised but sure enough, she found a little figurine. She knew exactly what the cake was as she had it for school lunch. I was reminding her of it last night and our now 15 year disappeared to her room and returned with the little figurine.
We’ve bought a galette for the past 4 weekends and ended up with baby Jesus, an angel, a shepherd, and Harley Quinn! It’s a very funny looking nativity scene!
Now is the Chandeleur, the day we eat crêpes!! I hope you have some today with the delicous cider from Normandy. Winter needs those rituals.
New Orleans and Mardi Gras! HUUUUGE King Cake tradition! Of course, this makes sense as France was the European country that settled that area.
King cakes are tradition in the gulf coast of the US, especially in New Orleans and Mobile. But the figure is usually a baby. I worked with a guy years ago who was from Mobile, and his mom would send him one annually, which he shared with the office. That was the first time I had ever seen one, but now Publix grocery stores have them too.
I live in the Houston area and due to the Louisiana influence, we can buy king cake at our local grocery stores. Ours are round and more like a cinnamon roll with the middle missing. They have the yellow, green and purple sanding sugar stripes with a plastic baby as the surprise.
I bought a few very detailed little porcelain figures at a Parisian flea market while on vacation, but had no idea what they were. This post sent me off searching online and I found a shop on Etsy that sells only feves! I lost an entire hour! Ha!
Who doesn’t love a king cake! But how beautiful are the little treasures in France! Now I believe I will have to bake a cake with surprises in it for my children this year.
In Spain and Catalonia, we have a similar tradition, with a bit different type of cake “tortell de reis” which is only eaten on the 6th ( https://ca.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tortell). The tortell contains a figurine – whoever finds it gets to wear the paper crown, and a real bean – whoever finds it, should pay for the cake. Time ago, the figurines could be anything, but nowadays they are only one of the three kings.
I feel stupidly proud to be French at this moment :-)
Not at all religious but following so many traditions… well, as long as there’s something delicious to eat, I’m all in!!