Galette des Rois

Galette des Rois

Looking for a recipe for galette des rois? See this post.

It is a typically French tradition to celebrate l’Epiphanie: this holiday celebrates the day on which the three kings Gaspard, Balthazar and Melchior came to pay their tribute to the world-famous baby born just a couple of weeks before. In French those wise men go by the cool name of Les Rois Mages (the Magi), and their first names are totally coming back in fashion these days, let me tell you. (Well, except maybe for Melchior, that’s a tough one.)

Like many a Christian holiday, this one has lost its religious significance in most French families, gaining a sweeter, much more buttery one in the bargain: on the day of the Epiphany, families share a Galette des Rois, a flaked pastry pie filled with frangipane, a butter-rich, smooth mixture of crème d’amande (almond cream) and crème pâtissière (pastry cream)*.

The actual date on which to have the galette has gotten fuzzier and fuzzier: some families celebrate on the 6th, some on the first Sunday in January, but it’s mostly considered fine to celebrate it all through the month of January. (I must however protest against the sale of galettes before the new year, and sometimes as soon as November. I mean, really.)

The fabulous thing about a Galette des Rois, apart from its deliciousness, is the family ritual that goes with it: the youngest child of the family hides under the table, an adult divides the galette in even slices, and the child calls out which slice goes to whom.

Why all the fuss you ask? Aah, it is just this small thing I haven’t yet mentioned: la fève is hidden in the galette. Historically a dry fava bean (hence the name), it is now a little porcelain figure. (That figure used to have some kind of religious meaning but that, too, has gone the way of the dodo.) Whoever gets the fève in his serving is named King (or Queen) for the day, gets to wear the golden paper crown that came with the galette, picks who the Queen (or King) will be, and glows with pride for weeks hence.

In my family, both my sister and I would hide under the table because we loved it so (the view was much more interesting from there). My mother would be the official galette-slicer, always expertly avoiding to run the knife onto the fève, and making sure either Céline or I got it — until we got older and all of a sudden my father always seemed to get it. Go figure.

This year, for the first time ever, I invited my parents and my sister to share the family galette at my apartment. The minute I made the invitation I knew I was going to get a galette from Pierre Hermé: I ordered the plain one (which in my humble opinion is the only way to go, no pineapple or lychee in my galette thank you very much), picked it up, brought it home, opened the box, and admired its shiny golden puffiness with the eyes of love.

After a very simple dinner, I reheated the galette gently in the oven, set it on a serving plate, and brought it to the table. My father served us the excellent champagne he had brought, my sister went to hide under the table (we are still little girls at heart, even after a long day at work), and for the first time of my life, I cut the galette and served a first round of slices, following the instructions my sister called out.

I very quickly spotted the tell-tale white spot on the side of my slice (“Yay, I have it!” thought I, beside myself with excitement), but for the sake of the game I hid it in my napkin until we had all had seconds: the second slice doesn’t taste half as good if the fève has already been discovered, and it is the Queen’s duty to make sure her people enjoy themselves, no?

Verdict: that galette was far and away the best any of us had ever tasted. The pastry was delicately flaky, rich and buttery but not overwhelmingly so, and the frangipane was soft, flavorful, and simply marvellous. Certainly worth the extra euros.

* In the south of France, it is customary to eat a Gâteau des Rois instead, a ring-shaped brioche garnished with candied fruit.

  • Carolyn

    Lovely looking galette and writeup. You should try some calissons with it.

  • http://www.shewhoeats.blogspot.com/ chika

    Galette des Rois from Pierre Hermé? You’re killing me, I loath the fact that I am not in Paris right now… :P

    And I really liked the little episode about your mom making sure either one of the daughters would get the feve, and at a certain point the father got his turn… isn’t that lovely :)

  • Szarka

    Oh, you’ve reminded me of a childhood favorite – the Orpheline series, by Natalie Savage Carlson – in which, of course, come Epiphany, the orphelines each hope to be crowned Queen courtesy of a ‘king cake’. I wish I could remember which one that was…Thank you so much for the recipe link also – I will give it a try!

  • Maisie100

    What a gorgeous galette! If anyone is in Houston, they are baking more galettes at Andre’s Patisserie today to keep up with demand…

  • yum

    we know about galette des rois in america… well, sort of. they don’t quite look the same, do they?

  • Stacy

    I stayed with a French family when I was studying in Aix en Provence. They had two adorable little girls. I was lucky enough to be there for epiphany, and to get to have a piece of galette. Mmmmm. My mouth still waters when I think of it. :) And I was lucky enough (or their mother was manipulative enough in her cake slicing) to get the feve. I still have it at home. Thanks for bringing back a great memory!

  • http://alithinks.typepad.com/alithinks/ Alison

    One of my favorite French traditions. My son was king today in his CP class! I’m always pleased to see a traditional fève rather than a Disney one. And here in the Charente-Maritime, you can also buy a galette briochée — it’s a nice change from the frangipane.

  • Luisa

    Hi there
    You should check out this article on galettes des rois in today’s NY Times:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/07/international/europe/07france.html. Thought it might interest you!
    Congrats on all the good things coming your way so soon after the New Year. You deserve them all! Keep up the good work, entertaining and inspiring us ;)

  • http://www.walleczek.at sasha

    when I was little, my aunt made a cake for epiphany with 3 beans in it – 2 white and one black (there were 3 kings, after all). all three “kings” got a paper crown for the day, but the king/queen with the black bean also had his/her face blackened with a cork held over a candle. thanks for reminding my of that lovely ritual.

  • http://theangelsshare.blogspot.com/ meyatch

    Ever since I met my wife, a New Orleans native, I’ve looked forward to a King Cake at this time of the year. Now I’ll have to add another pastry to the Mardi Gras sugar rush.

    Great story.

  • suse

    In Portugal we have bolo rei (king’s cake) it’s covered in dried nuts and crystalized fruits. It also has a fava bean inside and a small gift. The difference is that the person who gets the fava bean has to pay for the next years cake!
    http://lazer.publico.pt/artigo.asp?id=72368

  • Mandy

    What a lovely entry! I never knew King Cake could be so delicious. I have never liked the version we serve here in the States (picture purple, green and gold frosting), available at many bakeries from now until Mardi Gras. I will have to seek out an authentic version. thanks.

  • duhamel

    Bonjour,
    Please add us to your database to receive your newsletter.
    Merci d’avance.
    Franck & Jane

  • Apoorva Muralidhara

    You might find it amusing that I first heard of this tradition (I’m in the U.S., and have never been to France) when I saw Jacques Demy’s LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG (UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG). At a crucial moment, one character finds the feve and becomes Queen–and has only one choice, alas, for her King.

  • http://www.sergetheconcierge.com Serge Lescouarnec

    Clotilde

    Nice Post

    Reading it brings back fond memories.
    I have not celebrated it in a long time.
    Your piece inspired me to write about La Galette on ‘Serge the Concierge’.

    Bon Week-end

    Serge

  • Nicola Tame

    I just wanted to add a few comment…
    In Spain we don’t have Father Christmas. The children get all there present on the 5th of January. The say of the REYES MAGOS (exactly like there called in France). We also have a similar tradicion to you. We have a ROSCON DE REYES. A big doghnut shaped sponge cake filled with dried fruits (usually served acompanied with hot chocolate to dunk the cake in). We, just like you, put a dried bean in it and a small porcelain figure. Who gets the figure is the king for the day. And who gets the bean has to pay for everyone to go out to dinner or to pay for next years ROSCON DE REYES (depending on where in Spain you’re from, the tradicion says one thing or the other).
    Isn’t it funny the differences and similarities?

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Nicola – Thank you so much for describing this Spanish tradition. I did not know it, and I am delighted I do now! Love the winner/loser system, and may have to try it next year. :)

  • Nadia

    im a little girl in London and I have to research about La Galette des Rois and this has given me alot of info…
    thankyou–im sure ill get good grades for this!

  • Laura

    Someone brought a King Cake (the oversweetened, tricolor-frosted American version) to my office last week. Apparently, commercially-made King Cakes do not have a fève, presumably for liability reasons. Sad, no?

  • Daniel

    I’m picking up a galette tomorrow morning for my daughter’s preschool class to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany (she goes to a Catholic girls school that was founded by French nuns in Béziers). The only thing is that since New York City schools are now all nut-free, our French baker had to make the galette with apples instead of frangipane. Such is life.

  • Jill

    Ah! Thanks to a previous commenter I now know that my host family had a galette briochée! I always wondered why my memory was so different from the recipes I’d found. It was probably just as well since I later found out I’m allergic to almonds!

  • http://www.greenapplesorbet.com green apple sorbet

    Thanks for sharing this Clotilde, I might give the recipe a go!
    Happy cooking :)

  • Elizabeth

    In my hometown of New Orleans a true, traditional King Cake is made of brioche dough and less heavily iced than most versions you’ll find outside of the area. The stand-alone bakeries and many of the grocery store bakeries still bake a small plastic baby(representative of baby Jesus). The person who gets the baby also is King or Queen for the day and has the responsibility of providing the next King Cake for the party.

    One of my great personal sadnesses is that so many bakeries now simply make cinnamon rolls(which I love–just not as my King Cake) shaped as a ring and call it King Cake.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      Thanks for sharing that culinary tradition, Elizabeth!

  • http://www.galettedesrois.co.uk Nordine

    Hello!
    You can now order your galette des rois in London and pick it up at Le Montmartre on 46 Fleet street.
    See their special website on http://www.galettedesrois.co.uk
    Cheers

  • http://www.katherines.org Chef Katherine

    Our bakery makes both the French and New Orlean’s style cakes. Our Galette des Rois (puff pastry filled with frangipane and fava bean feve, and topped with a gold paper crown) is made at this time of year, as suggested by Clotilde. We also make the New Orlean’s style King Cake closer to Mardi Gras, and use a made-from-scratch Danish-style dough (with sour cream for flavor and moisture) with assorted fillings and the traditional green/purple/gold decoration. There is a plastic baby placed inside the cake as a favor. Please feel free to contact us for more information.

    p.s. I am an American-born pastry chef who trained under a French baker here in the U.S. and then travelled to Martigues, France for my stage. The French baker and his wife, along with their entire staff, welcomed me with open arms. Even one of their regular customers took me on several excursions: to view Roman ruins, various town markets, and a day trip to Marseilles. What a wonderful time!

  • Gina

    Merci mille fois, Clotilde, for this wonderful version of the Galette des Rois. I made one on 6 January, with great success–following your great recipe and clear instructions–and am looking forward to making at least one more before the end of January. My husband is French and we have spent a few Januarys in Paris, enjoying the seasonal favorite, which we have also enjoyed in former French colonies where we have lived and worked (e.g. Cambodia and Senegal, French bakeries being one of the French legacies in those countries). It never in a million years occurred to me to try Making one, until I found your recipe. Anyway, big thanks, again, for enabling me to share this wonderful recipe with my loved ones, and receive kudos from husband and those for whom this homemade version of the Galette was an introduction. (I fully credited you for the recipe, by the way.) PS: I love your French Idioms feature on this site. Bonne année et bonne santé !

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

      So pleased to hear that, Gina, thanks for posting!

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