If you are to go to France this week, you will see Galettes des Rois everywhere in the patisseries and the supermarkets. There are various recipes to this cake but the most frequently seen is a puff pastry cake with marzipan as a filling. Within the marzipan is a plastic figurine that used to be in olden times a bean, then replaced by a porcelaine figurine, and now unceremoniously plastic. The Galette des Rois is cut into as many pieces as there are people around the table. The youngest child hides beneath the table and calls out one by one the people present. The person who gets the figurine (la fêve) gets a paper crown. Nowadays, often there are two crowns and the king/queen can choose a queen/king.
This galette is eaten around Epiphany (Jan 6th) but has no religious connotation except that the Catholic Church managed at one time to encourage making the figurines into the effigy of baby Jesus. It’s therefore a pagan tradition and dates back to the Romans directly, and the Greeks indirectly.
The Greeks used to choose their magistrates this way: they would hide a bean in a cake, divide the cake up, and the guy with a bean became magistrate. The Romans had a different take on the custom. They would give a cake to a bunch of slaves. The one who got the bean would be King for the day and could go around bossing everyone around but the next day, he went back to being a slave or was put to death. Nice times.
The custom stayed alive in France after the Roman times and has gone on till now. It only stopped during the revolution when wheat was too precious and the very name of the galette, “galette des rois”, was a no no. Who wanted a king?
The fact that the Epiphany is also a feast about the Magi (known as 3 kings from Orient following a star and finding the baby Jesus in a stable) has absolutely nothing to do with the galette. The church tried to piggy-back the custom, that’s all.
Here is a recipe for your sexist galette des rois! It’s the best and simplest I could find but is in French. Happy dégustation!