A tart fit for kings!

In France, Epiphany is celebrated as la fête des Rois, marking when the three kings are said to have offered gifts to the baby Jesus. Since the 14th century it has been tradition to eat une galette des Rois at this time of year, although it appears to have its origins in pagan times...


Galettes des Rois at Le Duc bakery, Gourdon. Photo by G Murray
Galettes des Rois at Le Duc bakery, Gourdon. Photo by G Murray


Most commonly, the galette consists of flaky pastry sweet pie full of frangipane, which is like a creamy marzipan. In a few cases the pie is filled with apple instead and in some areas of France the galette ressembles a large donut shaped brioche, covered with candied fruit. Most importantly, inside each galette is baked a small charm, called la fève. Until around 1875, this would have been a dried broad bean (fava bean), but since then has been replaced with collectable miniature figurines and objects. Collecting these fèves is actually known as la fabophilie.


Example of a "fève". Image: public domain
Example of a "fève". Image: public domain


The tradition known as tirer les Rois has the youngest person or child hide under the table and call out the order in which the slices of pie are to be served. Whoever gets the fève becomes king or queen for the day and wears the paper crown that is sold with the pie. There should be as many slices as there are guests - plus one. The surplus slice is for the first pauper to pass by the house. This slice is known as the part du bon Dieu, part de la Vierge or part du pauvre.


Dating back to Roman times, inverting the hierachy of masters and slaves was the subject of games. Both would sit down together and have a feast to honour the gods. A bean would be hidden in one of the dishes and whoever found it would become king of the feast. It also appears that the child giving instruction from under the table dates from this time.




The galette des Rois is typically served with cider, champagne or sparkling wine and even today remains very popular with the French, with reportedly 97% taking part in the celebration in 2014. 68% of people admit to cheating so that the youngest child wins the fève. Our local bakery gave its entire cake display over to galettes this weekend (see top photo).

During the French Revolution the pie's name was changed to gâteau de l’égalité because it was unpopular to be a king at that time. Even in modern day France, good form forbids the French president to take part in the drawing of kings, so a galette without fève or crown will be served at the Elysée Palace. It is customary for Parisien bakers to offer a galette to the palace.


If you are not lucky enough to be near a French boulanger-patissier, perhaps you might like to make your own galette des Rois. Here is an easy-to-follow recipe, in French. If you find it a little fast, you can slow it down in the video's settings, found in the bottom right-hand corner of the video.



It just remains for us to wish you une bonne fête des Rois and une bonne dégustation, but above all une bonne année 2020 !


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