By Colette Davidson
Just when you thought the winter holiday season had come to a close, the French have come up with another reason to celebrate. Every year on January 6 is La Fête des Rois – Three King’s Day. The Christian holiday of Epiphany marks the day when the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem to meet the baby Jesus. Here in France, the holiday is celebrated nationwide – regardless of religion – with cake.
The appropriately named Galette des Rois – or King Cake – consists of a round flaky pastry with a frangipane filling, made with sweet almonds, butter, sugar and eggs. Other varieties do exist, with chocolate, cream or fruit filling, but the majority of French people are particular to their frangipane.
Inside each cake is a “fève” or bean – an ode to Roman times when an actual bean was placed inside the cake, to be eaten at the end of the large holiday feast. After the cake was cut, the person who received the bean was made king or queen for the day.
The French have put history to good use, and whether the cake is baked at home or pre-bought at one of the thousands of bakeries around the country, a little “fève” will always be hidden inside. While those who make their own may choose to hide an actual bean, most cakes nowadays contain a tiny plastic or porcelain trinket.
And like their predecessors, the French have held true to how the cake is consumed. Everyone sits around the table at the end of the meal, and the youngest person is instructed to cut the cake into the appropriate number of servings (according to the number of people present) and he or she is also the one who divvies up the slices.
And then the fun begins – eating! And chewing slowly so as not to break a tooth on the impending “fève.” The person who wins the bean is made king or queen for the day, and gets to wear a gold-colored paper crown, which comes with the cake when you buy it or can easily be bought at the local store.
While some may get a kick out of whipping up their very own flaky frangipane king’s cake, most people these days take the easy way out and hit up their local bakery. The January 6 festivities are so popular in France that each year, bakers hold a competition for the best king cake. Here is a list of some of the winning galettes des rois in Paris:
Didier et Nathalie Duchesne
38 rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 75011
Au levain du Marais
28 bd Beaumachais, 75011
Métro: Bastille, Chemin Vert or Breguet-Sabin
Gosselin Saint Honoré
125 rue St Honoré, 75001
143 rue de Courcelles, 75017
Le Grenier à Pain
52 avenue d’Italie, 75013
Métro: Place d’Italie, Tolbiac