How the French celebrate Christmas (Part II): 'King Cake' (Galette des Rois)

The Christmas season is the most important family meal of the year for the French (followed by Easter; remember – they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving!). Traditionally, the family meal is held on the 24th, and presents are opened on the morning of the 25th. Turkey has made inroads over the past few decades, but the stuffing might surprise you (think: boudin blanc or chestnuts!). And traditional French dishes (like goose, or boar) are also popular. Typically, a festive family meal will have at least 6 courses, often foie gras on brioche, followed by a seafood starter, a main course, cheese and salad, ending with the piece de resistance: the Bûche de Noël (French Yule log) cake.

But the festive season doesn’t stop there. New Year’s is just around the corner, marked by another meal (often with friends rather than family for younger people). And then, early in January, another special day is celebrate: the Day of Kings (Epiphany, in the Catholic calendar). This is a kids’ favorite, as the tradition for serving the special cake eaten only on this day–the Galette des Rois (King Cake)–puts them on centre stage.

The Galette des Rois is a light, flaky round cake made of puff pastry (or brioche in the south of France), filled with frangipane (made with almond meal). Hidden inside the cake is a figurine known as the fève (which translates as ‘bean’, because that’s originally what was used). When the cake is served, it is cut into equal parts according to how many people are at the table, and then the youngest person hides under the table, calling out the name of all of the other guests; as each name is called, that person receives their slice of Galette. The person who finds the fève becomes king or queen for the day–and everyone else has to follow their orders! We always had our Galette des Rois at the girls’ grandparents, and somehow, miraculously, one of the children always got the fève.

As this cake becomes better known there are more and more recipes out there. One of my favorites is Dorie Greenspan’s (really, really good) Galette des Rois recipe, which was the Serious Eats recipe of the month a few years ago (and deservedly so).

I’ll be making this early in January, and I’ll keep you posted!

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One thought on “How the French celebrate Christmas (Part II): 'King Cake' (Galette des Rois)

  1. Pingback: What French Kids are eating for School Lunch…this week in Lourdes! « Karen Le Billon

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