On 6th January, for Epiphany, French people put an end to the veritable food marathon they have been indulging in since Christmas with one last treat: the “Galette des Rois” (king’s cake). Best served warm, straight out of the oven, this cake is surrounded by lots of little fun traditions that kids (and adults) love!
What is the “Galette des rois”?
The “galette des rois” is traditionally eaten on the day of Epiphany to celebrate the moment when the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus. Even though it is to celebrate this specific day, you will find “galettes” in French bakeries and supermarkets from mid-December until the end of January as it is now a very commercial cake. It is made of puff pastry filled in with marzipan.
However, other types of “galettes” exist, such as an o-shaped “brioche” with sugar and candied fruit bits on top of it, which is a widespread regional variation. New recipes are also created each year by pastry-cooks – the traditional flaky galette filled with chocolate and pear has been very popular for the past few years.
How to eat it?
The “galette des rois” is had either for the “goûter” (snack eaten around 4pm) or, more rarely, for dessert. The eating of the galette is usually a family moment, but it is also common to invite friends or the kids’ school friends. Families will usually not eat only one galette but several throughout January. It is drunk with fruit juice, a glass of cider, bubbly, or white wine, or a cup of coffee or tea.
The drawing of the kings tradition
The Galette des Rois, which literally means Kings’ cake, is sold with a golden cardboard crown and always contains a little porcelain figurine (“la fève”) representing a religious or everyday life character, or more recently, an animated movie character. The person who has “la fève” in their slice will become king or queen of the day.
To make sure that no one cheats to get the fève, the youngest child goes under the table (so they can’t see the slice that has been cut) to tell the person serving who to give each slice to. Everyone will then start to eat carefully (or for most kids to look cheerfully for the fève) until someone says “j’ai la fève !” (I’ve got the fève!). The one who has it is designated king or queen, puts the crown on, and picks their queen or king. Then everybody yells “vive le roi/la reine” (“long live the king/queen”) before getting back to eating.
La galette des rois = king’s cake
Galette frangipane = marzipan “galette”
Tirer les rois = to draw the kings
La fève = the little porcelain figurine
J’ai trouvé la fève ! / c’est moi qui ai la fève ! = I have the ‘fève’
La couronne = the crown
Vive le roi/vive la reine ! = long live the king / queen!
Now you know everything about this joyful French tradition, which is a great moment to share with your kids (or your French neighbours)!