After Christmas and New Years have passed and we enter the cold winter months in Paris there is one thing that we can look forward to during the month of January in France : La Galette des Rois! You will begin to see these cakes appearing in boulangeries just after Christmas. They usually are topped with a shiny paper crown, and if you happen to be visiting Paris this time of year, don’t miss out on this delightful French tradition.
Made from pâte feuilleté (puff pastry) and frangipane (a creamy almond paste), La Galette des Rois (called King’s Cake in English) is a traditional French dessert made to celebrate the Epiphany, which falls on the 6th of January. In Christianity, the Epiphany is the date when the three magi visited the baby Jesus, bringing him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Though the holiday is on the 6th the French enjoy La Galette des Rois all throughout the month of January.
The special cake is made from pâte feuilleté (puff pastry) and frangipane (a creamy almond paste) and a charm, called a fève, is hidden inside. Whoever finds the little trinket in their piece of cake becomes King or Queen for the day and therefore gets to wear the golden crown. Feve actually means fava bean in French, because this was what was used centuries ago to represent the King in the cake. Now the charm is typically made of plastic or porcelain, traditionally they would have been baby Jesus figurines, but now you can pretty much buy a charm of anything to put inside your King’s cake.
It is very important to make sure that everyone has an equal chance at finding the King, so tradition dictates that the cake should always be divided into equal parts for everyone present, including one extra piece in case someone else should arrive. To further ensure the winner is random, tradition also calls for the youngest child in the room to hide under the table while the adult is cutting the cake. The child will then call out names for each of the slices.
Even the Sun King himself, Louis XIV, was reportedly a huge fan of this tradition. Later on, during the French Revolution, the Galette des Rois was renamed the Galette d’égalité when the monarchy was out of fashion. And nowadays, the Galette des Rois served at the Elysees Palace for the French President must not contain the charm nor have a crown, as it wouldn’t be appropriate for a President to be “crowned King”.
Here is our selection of where to find the tastiest Galettes des Rois in Paris:
Maison Stohrer, the oldest pastry shop in Paris.
Poilane, sells hazelnut filled King’s cakes at their boutiques in January.
Dalloyau, their signature Epiphany Cake for 2020 features pistachio cream and is decorated with a fox.
Angelina, features an Epiphany cake made with chesnut cream and chocolate.
And, if pastries are your thing, why not check out My Private Paris’ Pastry Tour, where you’ll be able to taste Galette des Rois and other decadent treats!
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