Every year we eat grandiose dinners for the holidays. For that reason, January is a good time to start eating lighter, healthier food. In France, however, you'd have to wait until after the galette des rois, because missing this treat would be a real shame.
The tradition of the galette comes from celebrating the Epiphany on the first Sunday following New Years Eve. The Epiphany is a Catholic holiday that celebrates the arrival of the three kings to Jesus Christ. The idea of sharing a cake with a fève inside goes back as far as l'antiquité ! Back in those days, maîtres and servants would share the cake together. Whoever would found the charm would be designed the "roi du jour" and would be able to command even his masters for the day.
Nowadays, the French continue the tradition of the galettes des rois. The galette is a great excuse for the French to organize a Sunday lunch. "Tu viens manger la galette des rois dimanche prochain ?" The galette is such a good occasion to bring friends together that these galette gatherings often last until the end of February.
In France you will find two main types of galettes: "la galette des rois" which is made with frangipane, a sweet almond filling, or "le gateau des rois", a brioche-like cake in the shape of a big doughnut. This second type of cake is more common in the south of France. Regardless of the type of cake, the tradition surrounding the act of serving galette is the same everywhere. Tradition dictates that the youngest person in the family sits under the table to determine who receives each slice of cake, which ensures a fair distribution of slices. As the youngest in the family, I was always the person underneath the table. It's a fun role when you're five years old but loses its charm by the time you're fifteen!
Cutting the galette requires some skill. In the malchanceux event that the person cutting the cake hits the charm, he must pretent that he didn't. And it's always a bit suspect when the person cutting the cake ends up with the fève in his slice. This is a great chance to display your best acting skills. "Oh j'ai la fève dis ! Non mais quel chanceux hein..!". Once the charm is found the person receives the couronne and can ask for any favors he desires. This is a good way to avoid having to do la vaisselle !
Whether you want to partake in this tradition in January or February and whether you have charms or not, the galette des rois is a chance to enjoy a delicious French tradition. In the end, it's all about the cake!
Here is a link to a galette recipe for les plus gourmands.
grandiose = spectacular
galette des rois = king cake
fève = charm
l'antiquité = the antiquity
maîtres = masters
roi du jour = king of the day
Tu viens manger la galette de rois dimanche prochain ? = You want to come eat the king cake next Sunday?
le gateau des rois = king cake
malchanceux = unlucky
suspect = suspect
Oh j'ai la fève dis ! Non mais quel chanceux hein..! = Oh I found the charm..! What a luck hein...!
couronne = crown
la vaisselle = the dishes
les plus gourmands = the real food lovers
by Nicolas Yviquel, program management intern