I would like to start 2009 with a post about one of my favourite cakes, la galette des rois, traditionally baked in France to celebrate Epiphany. Epiphany is tomorrow January 6,and marks the visit of the three wise men to the Christ child. These three eastern kings have wonderful names, Gaspard, Balthazar and Melchior. I’ve only met one Gaspard, the son of my friends Maryse and Cyril Lalanne and Balthazar reminds me of a restaurant so I doubt these names will come back into fashion anytime soon. However, I propose we adopt the French designation for the three wise men – Les Rois Mages – the sorcerer kings – it sounds so much more magical.

As with many religious holidays, Epiphany has lost most of its original meaning and the galette des rois is now eaten throughout the month of January, not only on the 6th, which means you have time to enjoy one. There is a recipe on p64 in my book Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes or you might be lucky enough to have a French bakery nearby where you can buy one. The fun of a galette is that une fève, originally a dried bean but now a ceramic figurine, is hidden in the cake. If you happen to find yourself in the Montparnasse area of Paris there is a small store on rue de la Gaité with a fine collection of old ceramic fèves in the window. Today, fèves range from the traditional to the modern inspired by everything from cartoons to television shows, however I find Star Academy, (a French TV talent quest) fèves a bit too much.
And the person who discovers a fève in their slice of galette? Well, he or she is crowned king or queen for the day, an honorary title that simply let’s them wear the cardboard crown sold with the cake.


  • Athenaeus says:

    I didn’t know anything about the la galette des rois before reading about it in your book, Fat. I was/am familiar with King Cake so popular in Louisiana for Mardi Gras. In doing a quick search it looks like the la galette des rois directly inspired the King Cake. I love a good food history story!

  • Did you make the one in the photo? Looks beautiful. I used to work at a bakery where we made this cake, but we weren’t allowed to hide the toy inside in case somebody accidently ate it, choked, and sued us. The United States version.

  • Jennifer says:

    There are lots of interesting foods associated with religious celebrations. Yes I made the one in the photo when I was testing for the book, it has the rhubarb layer hidden inside instead of a bean or toy so perhaps it would was that US test!<BR/>I made another galette yesterday, no rhubarb this time but a bean. Neither my husband and I have found it yet, but no fear of us suing each other.