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Life in Rural France

Living the French Dream….The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

A French Pastry with a paper crown on top

Galette des Rois: An Epiphanie French Tradition

The French love any opportunity to eat cake and celebrate. And unlike in the UK where Christmas is over once New Year’s Day has come and gone, the celebrations continue here in France.

Enter the 700 year old tradition of Galette des Rois, the “king cake.” This yummy sweet baked cake has been in existence since the 14th century, and is served on January 6th, the 12th Day of Christmas.

Traditionally the 12th day celebrates Epiphany. A religious day of feasting to commemorate the arrival of the Three Wise Men at the manger where Jesus lay.

You’ll see this cake given pride of place in the pâtisserie (pastry shop), boulangerie (bakery), and your local  supermarché (supermarket). It’s usually adorned with a golden crown which represents the tradition of a tiny charm buried in the cake.

Whoever gets this charm in their slice of cake is then “king for a day”.

How do you make Galette des Rois?

Now depending upon where in France you are depends on the way this cake is baked.

The style I’ve seen the most is made with pâte feuilleté, puff pastry, and then filled with frangipane, a creamy almond paste. Historically this style is found more in the North of France. But it’s also the one you’ll see most displayed on blogs and social media.

Other variations include a brioche style with candied fruit and shortbread, as well as a variety of fillings such as framboise, raspberry, and chocolat-poire, chocolate pear.

Sliced pastry with a crown on top - French tradition

I tasted this cake for the first time this year and I have to say it was absolutely delicious. On instruction from my neighbour, and French friend Anne, I served it warm straight out of the oven and it literally did melt in my mouth.

Unfortunately, my slice didn’t have the charm so I wasn’t able to be Queen for a Day.

The History of Galette des Rois?

Traditionally the cake should be divided into servings for each guest with one left spare. Its left in case someone you weren’t expecting should arrive or for a poor person who might be passing. This allows everyone the chance to “tirer les rois,” draw the kings, and become king for a day.

Historically, the king was represented by a fève, fava bean, but now it’s usually a little plastic figure. If you’re lucky enough to discover the lucky charm you’re then declared le roi, the king or la reine, the queen. Then you get to wear the golden crown that accompanies the cake for the rest of the day.

This tradition is taken very seriously. To ensure there is no cheating the youngest child present goes under the table and shouts out the name of each person to receive their slice. That way there is no way of knowing who will get which piece.

I haven’t yet attempted to make this myself. But if you’re game and want to give it a go, here’s a couple of recipes for you to try. 

For the puff pastry version, click here, and the brioche style click here.

And it goes without saying I’d love to know how you get in so don’t be shy. Feel free to share your pictures with me and tag us on Instagram and Facebook so we can see how they turn out.

Another tradition you might like is La Chandeleur – all about crêpes

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