Epiphany

Epiphany in France: La galette des rois

The galette des Rois is one of France’s favourite desserts. Deeply rooted in the country’s history, the galette is a puff pastry filled with frangipane, a cream made of custard and ground almonds. Dating back to as early as the fourteenth century, tradition once dictated that a small bean was to be concealed within the dessert. Today, this has been replaced by lucky charms (known as la fève in French), which can represent anything from a car to a cartoon character and have become popular collectibles.

The galette is customarily eaten on 6th January, the Epiphany and the twelfth day of Christmas, to celebrate the Three Kings’ visit to baby Jesus. Nowadays people eat the Galette des Rois during the whole month of January simply because it is a very tasty dessert and an enjoyable tradition. During a galette party, the French do not only eat a delicious slice of this festive cake, but they also “tirer les Rois” (literally translated, “draw in the Kings”).

To ensure a random and fair distribution of the cake shares, it is traditional for the youngest person to place themselves under the table and name the recipient of each piece. The person who finds the lucky charm in their slice becomes the King or Queen for the day and chooses their respective counterpart. This person will have to offer the next cake at the following year’s celebration.

This popular tradition enjoys some delightful anecdotes. For instance, during the French Revolution, its name was reworked to ‘Gâteau de l’Egalité’ because of the controversial connotations of being crowned a King or Queen at that time. It is also alleged that François Hollande is not allowed to “tirer les Rois” because of etiquette rules and, as such, a traditional galette without a trinket is served at the Elysée Palace.