Dear families, today let me introduce you a tradition shared by 97% of the French families: The King’s cake or “galette des Rois”. Do you know what it is? And why is it about Kings? Much more than a simple cake, it has a deep meaning you should know. Indeed, it combines a delicious dessert, an interesting story, and a fun game to share with your family or your friends. Let’s discover it altogether.
Some history first
The king’s cake is traditionally eaten for the Christian celebration of Epiphany, beginning on the second Sunday after Christmas. It is the day that The Three Kings found infant Jesus. The custom to eat the cake is said to be adapted from a Roman custom: once a year, all the inhabitants of big mansions, the family and its servants, shared a cake in which was inserted a lucky charm. The one who found the lucky charm become the king of the day, with the possibility to give orders even to his masters. Nowadays our King’s cake kept the lucky charm, and the one finding it can become the king of the day, and the cake then is called ” the king’s cake”.
“La fête des Rois”, painting from the 17th century
The types of cake
France is split between two different types of king’s cake: the frangipane galette and the brioche cake. It should always come with a small crown.
The Frangipane Galette
Frangipane is a filling made from or flavoured with almonds. It gives thick cakes that are very popular in most parts of France, especially the northern areas. It may be called “galette parisienne” (Parisian galette), and sometimes has chocolate or apple taste as well.
Frangipane galette with chocolate flavor
The brioche cake
The brioche cake is a highly enriched bread, and whose high egg and butter content give it a rich and tender crumb, it may be stuffed with marzipan or whipped cream.
It is most common in southern France, where we often find it with candied fruits.
The game of the lucky charm
A lucky charm is inserted into the cake at the cooking, or before the service. By eating the cake, you may find the lucky charm.
Frangipane galette with chocolate flavour
It’s a colorful figurine big enough not to be swallowed by children. Many people have a collection of them, and place them every year in the nativity scene they are doing at home.
A nativity scene with king’s cake lucky charm
Traditionally, the youngest child goes under the table, the person who is cutting the cake ask him every time he cuts a piece “to whom shall I give this one?” and the child shall give the name of one of the guest. If a boy finds the lucky charm, he becomes the King, and have to choose a Queen in the assistance (a girl becomes Queen, and choose then a King).
A small crown of golden paper is always provided with the King’s cake; we shall place it on the head of the lucky one. He is the King of the day.
How to enjoy this tradition
In January it is very common in France to have King’s cake at home, at work, with relatives, colleagues or friends. There is not problem to enjoy it several times, it’s so good! With tea, coffee, and for the brioche cake you can add some jam or cream on it.
Also, if we are sharing a King’s cake only with adults without children we tend to say that the one finding the lucky charm is the King/Queen, but has to buy the next King’s cake. That’s a good reason to enjoy it again!
I am very happy to share with you this French tradition; I sincerely wish you appreciate it. Please do not hesitate to write to us if there are some traditions you would like to learn more about. And if you have any questions, or your want to organize etiquette classes for your company, you are more than welcome to write to us!