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Fête des Rois - Epiphany

by oldfrog Sat Jan 6th, 2007 at 05:21:40 AM EST

Fête des Rois - La Galette des Rois

Epiphany in France and Galette des Rois

Right now all over France, people are cutting into sweet cakes, gingerly taking bites, and squealing with delight when they find a tiny porcelain figure in amongst the butter, sugar, and frangipane. It's Epiphany season, and in France that is cause for celebration in the form of a very special cake called the Galette des Rois, or Cake of Kings.

Although Epiphany is January sixth, the season begins before Christmas and stretches for a month. Patisserie and boulangerie shelves fill with galettes des rois, which differ according to geography. In the north of France, the galette is a flat, shiny round of puff pastry usually filled with frangipane. In the south of France, it is brioche dough, scented with lemon zest and sometimes orange flower water. In Brittany, galettes resemble shortcake and are fragrant with creamy Breton butter. All galettes contain a fève, or tiny porcelain figurine, and each comes with a gaily colored cardboard "crown," which sits on the head of whoever gets the fève.

Normally, the custom of hiding a bit of fancifully decorated porcelain in a cake could be a health hazard -- or at the very least a dental nightmare -- but nothing of the sort is ever brought up here. Instead, the flow of traffic to bakeries and pastry shops is heavier than usual, as people line up for their galettes. They are really lining up for the fèves, which have become highly collectible. They can range from tiny cobalt blue, gilt-edged tea and coffee sets (each galette contains a piece of the set so one is obliged to buy several in hopes of obtaining the entire set), to sports or cartoon characters, witches, goblins, or saints.

History has it that the cardinals of Besançon, near Dijon, originated the tradition of galette de rois in the 14th century. To choose a chapter head, they held a sort of lottery at Epiphany that consisted of hiding a coin in a loaf of bread. Whoever got the coin was awarded the post. Over the years, the bread evolved into brioche, the coin became a fève (literally a bean), and the custom spread throughout the land.


Whoever recieves the little favor is then crowned king/queen for the day. Tradition also dictates that the cake be cut into as many slices as there are people present, plus 1 extra. The extra piece is called either, part du Bon Dieu(God's piece), part de la Vierge (the Virgin Mary's piece) or part du pauvre (poor man's piece) and it is given to the first poor person who stops at the home.

Who will become king or queen for the day at your house? Bake a galette and have a little fun with the family. Make a foil crown to place atop the cake before eating it. Here are 3 recipes and a variation!

Galette des Rois: a traditional recipe made with almond paste
Galette des Rois: made with ground almonds
Kings Cake: from New Orleans
Pithiviers is also an almond filled tart, but here is a variation with a hazelnut and chocolate filling for the chocoholics among you.


How do you celebrate or do you celebrate at all ?

In Eastern Switzerland (the German Swiss end), it is known as Drei Königs Tag. We had the bread last year and I found the crown...King for the year!
What is also sweet is that three kids usualy come by on these days, sing a song, write a blessing on our door, and we give them a little alms for their efforts (which goes to a charity). Its a nice celebration!

Thanks for posting this!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Sat Jan 6th, 2007 at 08:26:45 AM EST
Since we live in France now, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany in the French way. But many years of travel have taught us many ways. In Mexico (my wife is from Mexico originally), this is a celebration for the children primarily, called the day of the Three Wise Kings. Christmas is not a gift-giving day, at least not until the corporate marketers got it by the throat. On this day, the family gets together in the evening to eat a wreath-shaped cake. Baked into the cake is a porcelain doll, and each person cuts their own piece. The person who finds the doll must throw a party on February second, the Feast of Candelmas. The children put their shoes outside the door before bed, and the Three Wise Kings come in the night and leave gifts.
The pastry is not really a cake, but an egg-batter based sweet bread, and the way Ivonne makes it it is to die for.
Mexico is so complex in it's cuisine and cultural variety (in 1984 they printed ballots in twenty-something languages) that I am sure there are lots of other traditional variations.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sat Jan 6th, 2007 at 09:09:12 AM EST
Oh wow, that looks delicious!

In the Orthodox church, however, we have a little diffeent way to mark Epiphany, which here we actually call St. Jordan's Day. I really don't know how it is for the other Orthodox countries, but here on the 6th of January in every town or city there is a religious procession, which takes the people to the sea, a river, lake, or whatever other water source there is available nearby. The priest throws the cross in the waters, and some brave men (who are absolutely cold-resistant;-)) jump to take it out. Whoever takes the cross out of the water, will be very lucky throughout the year.

I can resist anything but temptation.- Oscar Wilde

by Little L (ljolito (at) gmail (dot) com) on Sat Jan 6th, 2007 at 11:01:30 AM EST
Wow, all this (what's in the diary and the comments) is new to me. Here the day is called Vízkereszt (= Water Cross) or less often Háromkirályok (=Three Kings), but the tradition is almost died-out at folk level, I didn't even knew on which day it is. (Nor why it is called Water Cross, but I'm going to look it up.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 6th, 2007 at 11:37:29 AM EST
I find that churches consecrated holy water on this day. As for past Hungarian customs for the day, I find priests used to go around the village collecting donations, and dedicate new houses by carving "GMB" (for the initials of the Three Kings) and the year above the door.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Jan 6th, 2007 at 11:49:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
whatever you do, don't carve GWB or you'll be cursed in seven generations
by oldfrog on Sat Jan 6th, 2007 at 12:32:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Similar in Tirol and neighbouring region, the priest comes, blesses (dedicate?)  the house and write the year +something over the door. I am just not sure about the letters, I'll check, thanks dodo

La répartie est dans l'escalier. Elle revient de suite.
by lacordaire on Sat Jan 6th, 2007 at 07:44:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
crossing bit.  right at the bottom.


As a reformed Baptist (gave up religion for Lent), didn't know squat about this sort of thing.

by HiD on Sat Jan 6th, 2007 at 10:40:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Even though I live in the most hyper-Christian nation on Earth, we do not celebrate such things.  Smacks too much of Catholicism (which many American Protestants to this day equate with wickedness).

Though we did vote to keep the office Christmas tree up until Monday because of the Epiphany.

The King's Cake is one thing I really miss from French class...

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Sat Jan 6th, 2007 at 03:45:52 PM EST
but but .... the Christmas tree is an old Germanic PAGAN, secular symbol. It has as much to do with the Christian celebration of Xmas as the Easter Bunny with the Resurrection...

I read on wikipedia that the Epiphany celebrations are still very alive in Louisiana and among the Spanish communities in USA...

On the other hand I perfectly understand that some "raghead"comming near the baby Jesus holding a metall box in his hand is very... very suspicious...

by oldfrog on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 at 01:34:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but but ... I am aware of only 2 Christians in the office (several Muslims, Jews, and infinite Buddhists & agnostics) so one should not question why we've kept the tree up until now but why one has been put up at all!

Oldfrog, America.  It's a strange place.  Everyone is from sonewhere else and they bring all their somewhere else traditions here along with their recipes and tchotchkes.  We all have to live and work together and so we end up with things like a Christmas tree in the neighborhood square that says, "Happy Hanukkah and Kwanza!" and Muslims bringing in Polish doughnuts on Mardi Gras and Chinese people celebrating New Years Eve at an Ethiopian joint.  Atheists and Catholics hunt for Easter eggs and Iraqi Americans celebrate the 4th of July and some baker put a goat in my friend's Galette des Rois.  It's a mad mad mad mad world.  And in it we must find sanity.  Epiphany was a practical compromise between those enjoying the tacky office tree and those who were sick of its lurid glow.  Makes no sense?  Does a virgin getting knocked up by God make sense?  No, don't go trying to insert logic into these things.  They are specifically designed to give us a break from such matters. :)

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 at 06:39:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Spain, the Three Wise Men or the Three Magi Kings come every year on 6th January with gifts for the children and everybody else. Epiphany marks the end of the holiday season. The evening before, there are festivals and parades in every city and town to welcome them and every mayor give the Wise Man the city keys. Sometimes they arrive by sea, sometimes by train, sometimes even riding an aerostatic balloon. As they are really magic, they can reach all the places at the same time and visit all the houses in just one single night. Before going to sleep, the children leave their shoes (well polished) by a window, together with some sweets and drinks for the Magi and some water for their camels and horses. Then, the Magi come at night and leave the presents by the shoes.
Sometime during the 6th, be it at breakfast, as the lunch dessert or tea time, we eat something similar to the Galette des Rois, we call it "Roscón" in Spanish and "Tortell" in Catalan.

An these are the Three Wise Men

by amanda2006 on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 at 02:17:37 PM EST
Do children get anything on the eve of Saint Nikolaus Day (December 5/6)? Because part of the Epiphany traditions you describe are familiar to me for that date.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 at 02:42:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, not really, even if we used to celebrate San Nicolás at school when I was a child. But I should say my school was kind of "different", by the standards of that time (the fifties and Franco). It was a Montessori School, so we were kept in touch with other European traditions.
by amanda2006 on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 at 02:48:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the tortell looks exactly like the brioche you can find in the south of France...
by oldfrog on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 at 05:56:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm shocked.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 7th, 2007 at 06:05:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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