Today is the day when it is perfectly acceptable to buy a ridiculously expensive, ridiculously massive pastry. Today is l’Epiphanie, a Christian festival where the three kings are to be added next to the crib of a Jesus nativity scene. This festival dates back from the 1400s when Pope Julius II declared the 6th of January a day of religious importance. Now days, we just eat cake…
The cake originally was made to lure the three kings to the crib and while its roots remain here, the importance and associated symbols have changed over the years. During the late 1600s the cake was believed to have pagan origins and associated with gluttony and over indulgence so the festival was banned by the Church. The French are truly passionate about their patisseries so to avoid the ban they made the cake in early January to promote good neighbourly relations. During the French Revolution the cake changed names again and became the cake of equality as kings were not a terribly popular image at this time!
Since the 1800s the baker has put a little surprise in the galette. Originally this was a bean and the person who found the bean in their slice was crowned King or Queen for a day. To ensure fair play the youngest person should crawl underneath the table before the cake is distributed and say who they would like to receive the first piece. They have made this galette tradition slightly more festive and instead of a broad bean you will now found a ceramic or plastic ornament. This can be anything from a cartoon character to an animal to religious symbols. Or in my case, a funny little blue fox. Artisan patisseries continue to use hand crafted ceramic ornaments and these can fetch quite a price as collectors items.
Another tradition associated with this pastry stems from the good neighbourly relations story. Your local patisserie will kindly tell you how many people the galette is designed to serve. When I read 4/5 or 6/7 or 8/9 I thought the patisser was maybe being miserable with portion sizes but I later learnt that the extra person refers to an old ideal of giving a piece of the galette to the first poor person you come across. As I live practically next door to the bakery I could rush home and savour the galette all for myself. At €10 a bop, I wasn’t sharing this baby with anybody!
In the south of France the “King cake” is a brioche in the shape of a ring, like a crown, and is known as un gâteau des rois. In the rest of France the galette des rois is made from puff pastry and generally filled with an almond cream called frangipane. The galette I bought is filled with apples and my goodness, I think it is the best apple cake/pie/tart I have ever had. The apples are slightly caramelised yet creamy. This may sound painfully obvious but they taste as if, yes, they did once grow on a tree… The pastry is deliciously buttery. I’m talking artery clogging quantities of butter. And I love it!
Hmm, galette for dinner and dessert? I think so….