Origin of the Galette des Rois
Galette des Rois or Kingcake is compulsory on the Epiphany.
This religious celebration takes place on the twelfth day of Christmas, when the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus.
French therefore call this festival Fête des Rois (Kings’ Day) and serve the traditional puff pastry tart stuffed with frangipane.
The tradition of eating a Galette des Rois goes back to the Middle Ages.
The twelve days following the celebration of Christmas ended with the Epiphany, during which a major collection was taken.
The parishioners in charge of the collection were rewarded by a galette shared in equal portions between them.
The tradition spread and each dwelling baked a cake in order to share between all members of the family.
The tart used to be divided equally among the family members and servants, however, the first slice was reserved for the first pauper who would knock on the door.
This slice was known as Part du Bon-Dieu – Good Lord’s slice, Part de La Vierge Marie – Virgin Mary’s or Part du Pauvre – Poor man’s slice.
The door of the dwelling remained open all evening long in order to invite a pauper to come in and get some food.
People gathered around the huge fireplace until it was time to attend the midnight mass.
The tradition evolved over the years and the first slice was reserved for the member of the family who was absent on that day.
It was kept in the bread box until his return.
It was a good omen if the slice had been well preserved!
Epiphany remained a day of religious celebration and banqueting until the French Revolution, when the Galette des Rois was renamed Galette de l’Egalité!
The French no longer have a banquet on that day, as they are trying to recover from the excesses of Christmas and New Year celebrations!
But they still eat the Galette des Rois in which a porcelain bean is inserted (generally a small porcelain figurine).
Galette des Rois’ Hidden Bean
A fève – originally a bean – is indeed traditionally placed inside the Galette des Rois prior to baking in order to draw the kings.
The person who finds the fève in his slice is crowned king or queen for the day.
He or she can choose someone to be his queen or king; both are treated like royals all through the day.
The origin of the bean goes back to the Roman Saturnalia, a major and happy festival that originated in Ancient Greece when people celebrated their beneficent gods.
The Saturnalia took place in early January.
It was an occasion for masquerades, gifts exchange with friends, big meals, masters’ and slaves’ role swaps.
Morality was forgotten and rules of good or bad behaviour entirely abolished!
The custom was to place a black or white bean in a cake.
The person who found it was crowned King of the Banquet for the evening and had to chose his Queen and wear a fake crown.
The Church of Rome replaced the Saturnalia festival by the Epiphany, but a golden paper crown still comes with the galette des rois!
Modern day beans are made from porcelain; they may represent traditional religious characters, Walt Disney characters or anything that is the trend of the moment!
The celebration of the Epiphany has long lost all religious symbolism to become a popular family celebration.
It is another occasion for drinking Champagne (French can’t stop finding occasions!) with the Galette des Rois!
Galette des Rois Recipe
Cooking time: 50 minutes in preheated oven (Mark 6 – 200°C)
- 2 ready rolled sheets of puff pastry
- 100g softened butter
- 100g caster sugar
- 100g ground almonds
- 1 small glass of rum
- 3 eggs
- Add the softened butter, ground almonds, sugar and rum together in a large bowl
- Whisk until obtaining a smooth mixture
- Add 2 eggs, one at the time
- Keep whisking until the sugar is melted
- Cut each pastry sheet to fit a round baking sheet
- Moisten the baking sheet and place the first puff pastry sheet on it
- Spread the frangipane on top but leave a 2 cm wide band on the edge
- Separate the white and yolk of the 3rd egg
- Brush this 2cm band with the egg white
- Cover the frangipane with the 2nd puff pastry sheet
- Press and roll the edge to bond the two sheets together
- Use a knife point to shear the edge obliquely and the top of the tart with crossed lines to create diamonds
- Prick 5 or 6 holes through the tart
- Beat the remaining egg white with the yolk
- Glaze the top of the tart
- Bake the tart for 20mn in the preheated oven
- Take it out of the oven and glaze it a 2nd time with the remaining beaten egg
- Bake for another 30mn until the tart turns golden
- Each oven is different, but you’ll know for sure that your Galette des Rois is cooked to perfection when it does not bend when you lift it.
Happy Fête des Rois!