A Cake For The Kings

January 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

In case you had missed my post  published last year on January 6th about the “Galette des Rois”  I am re-posting it today in relation to my brother in law Ralph Gardner Jr ‘s wonderful  article for his column in The Wall Street Journal which was published this morning under the title: ‘A Treat Fit for a King’

Growing up in France, one of my favorite celebrations was on or around January 6th. “Tirer les Rois” or “drawing the kings” is a festival when families, friends, colleagues and anybody who wants to put a paper crown on their king or queen’s head share a cake called Galette Des Rois.

The Drawing of the Kings game goes back to a tradition observed during the Roman Saturnalia celebration symbolizing the return of increasing daylight and of the sun itself. A drawing of either a black or white bean from a special cake would mean one would be King for the Day. The cake itself  is a symbol of the sun.

Christians have made it a holiday to celebrate Epiphany and The Adoration of the Magi since around the tenth century.

The cake tradition has remained throughout these times, surviving banishments as pagan rituals, until today, where in France, it is very much alive.

If you happen to be in Paris around January the 6th you might have to go through much trouble if you do not want to appear in public with a paper crown on your head.

Often it can be an awkward and comical situation, in which you are expected to choose your king or queen among the revelers sharing the delicious galette with you. That is IF you are lucky enough to draw the slice of cake in which a “fève” or bean has been inserted by the baker, and find that fève at the risk of breaking your teeth (I am not aware of anyone suing bakers for this yet). I wonder if someone has ever willingly swallowed it and thus saved face at the price of anonymously causing quite a commotion among the befuddled, angry guests deprived of a fève in their galette.

The odds in successfully skipping this regal affair  would definitely be against you given that such events take place all around France, on average five times a day and for 8 days at least.

Believe me, it can get old after a while. Just think for a minute of doing this among colleagues at the office or with the co-tenants in your building…

I’ve heard that the only sure way to avoid such a “silly chore” is to be invited to stay for the entire time at the Elysée Palace, where the crowning of the galette king is banned, as it is considered anathema to the Republic.

As a child I loved everything about it. The shining crown. The sweet warm cake.  And the “Fève” of course, a talisman of childhood.

I so vividly remember the beautiful tiny painted porcelain figurines: a swaddled baby, an adoring king, a toy or a Fleur de Lys.

Now they are also made of plastic, representing movie stars, cartoon characters, company logos or even, I bet, all kinds of jokes, bawdy allusions or political satires.

I have been keeping the Drawing Of The King tradition alive here at home ever since my children were born.

I make the galette from a traditional northern France recipe and, over the years, have collected paper crowns and Fèves looted during my winter trips to Paris.

My children are now adults or over 16, but the feast has not yet become old or lame. My kids still like the galette. And so does my husband.

I suspect however that for my kids, choosing a queen or a king has become a tad corny. Until, as parents themselves, they remember their childhood…


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