Epiphany is celebrated on January the 6th in remembrance of the three Wise Men visiting the new born Jesus on that day, after a long trip from the East to Bethlehem. Traditionally, and since the 14th century, la galette des rois (Kings’ cake) is eaten that day, but not only. The celebration goes on throughout January, as one typically eats a galette with family, friends, any clubs mates, colleagues…
A fève (literally bean, in fact a little charm) is buried in the festive cake made of pâte feuilletée (puff pastry) stuffed with frangipane (creamy almond paste). This is at least the most commun version of the galette. In the South of France a brioche-type cake with candied fruits is more popular and also traditional. Besides the frangipane one, lighter ones filled with apple, or more creatives one, with pistachio-raspberry …, or even chocolaty ones, are to be bought in boulangeries, pâtisseries as well as in supermarkets. Famous pâtissiers tend to create a new one each year!
Serving a galette is a complex process! Traditions vary from place to place, even from family to family. First, the cake should be cut in equal slices. If ever the knife hits the fève, the person in charge of cutting should do his/her best to avoid it without letting anyone know. After that, the youngest child in the room has to/is allowed to go under the table from where he will answer the question cette part est pour qui? (Whose slice is this one?) until everyone is served. Then enjoy with cider or apple juice for children!
Finally, the lucky one who gets the fève in his slice is le roi/la reine (the King or Queen) for a day and gets a, usually golden, paper couronne (crown). The fève, nowadays made out of ceramic or plastic, used to be a golden coin or a broad bean for the less wealthy ones. It is most often a little character either from the biblical story, or from any story, including the latest Disney production. Paddington and Star Wars are very popular this year.
Some people collect the fève and in order to have a complete set (all the different Star Wars ones) would be able to eat more galette than decent. Others just collect them year after year and end up with boxes full of them, picturing the different trends.
The whole ceremony is called tirer les rois. No we don’t shout the King several times in January et again year after year! we just share the galette in order to designate the King/ Queen for a day!