Yesterday, during a game of ‘categories’, a French student of mine asked about the traditional ‘Twelfth Night cake’. Confused, I asked him to show me an image of what he was talking about on Google Images and up popped a picture of Galette des Rois. Where, why, and how he found the translation of Twelfth Night Cake was beyond me. I had to kindly explain that in America we don’t have such a cake and perhaps the only cake we eat for twelve nights (and mornings) in a row is Pound cake. As the lunch hour approached, all I could think about was the flaky, sweet goodness on my screen and how it had been an entire year since my last Galette des Rois. About an hour later, after lunch, I went into the Staff/Teachers lounge for water and saw three women cutting up a Galette des Rois and handing out slices amongst themselves. If there was ever a time to be an ‘obnoxious American’ this was it. Yet, I froze. Maybe my internal cries for cake were not loud enough. How do you say,”hmmm that sure looks good,” in French? Is there such a phrase? How about “oh I’ll take a sliver,”? Do French people do slivers of cake? I left the staff room in defeat and with a tepid cup of water. I knew Galette des Rois was taunting me at this point. The flaky, almondy cake calls out to me at every turn yet, I can’t justify paying 16.00 for a cake I can’t finish alone. Should I just wait for someone to offer the poor American a slice? Is this a right-place/right-time situation? Can I find a mini cake somewhere? Is Picard my best bet? How do people without family participate in this tradition?
The reason Galette des Rois is so appealing is it’s seasonal and familial history. The ingredients are like that of many pastries found year wide at any boulangerie: butter, almond paste, pastry dough etc. But this cake is mostly eaten as a family on January 6th to mark the Feast of Epiphany (3 Kings Day). This culinary tradition dates back to the 14th century. With my family back in America Three Kings Day is a day where everyone wakes up early to clean up and pack away Christmas decorations. There’s no cake or fun crowns but instead, lugging lights and dainty ornaments into the garage and sweeping up Christmas tree needles. In France however, the family gathers around the table and the youngest hides under the table then dictates who gets what slice. In one particular slice is a little gift/charm or in French: feve. The person with the feve gets a crown and is the king for the day. The charms are made of either porcelain or plastic that range in shapes (the feve I found last year is a little Polar bear I keep on my dresser). Kids and adults get into collecting feves and Galette des Rois fever comes as quickly as it goes as Frenchies face the rentree back to work on January 7th.
Have you had a Galette de Rois? Is it worth the hype? Where’s the best place to find one in Paris? And most importantly, have you found an individual size Galette de Rois?