Ga-Lette Them Eat Cake! (re-post)

While I’m toiling away in the laboratory on my next blog entry, I’d like to resurrect an older one from a year ago for any new readers out there.  It describes my first experience with a peculiar (and tasty) French tradition this time of year. Enjoy!

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Having my wife on all fours underneath the table with her eyes closed while I wield a large knife reciting French from the kitchen would normally seem un peu bizarre. But if you’re in France this time of year it surprisingly becomes très normal, because this is no ordinary, post-Christmas-blues season — this is the season of the Galette des rois.

It seems there isn’t a single bakery that hasn’t filled its display window with these round “Kings’ Cakes”, and you can always identify one in its natural habitat by its ornately carved top and king’s crown nearby. The tradition goes as follows: during the month of January families everywhere buy this confection made of buttery, flaky, multilayered pastry crust traditionally housing a layer of almond and pastry cream. There’s also a real star ingredient that sets it apart from all others: each cake has baked inside it a small porcelain or plastic trinket. In the old days it was une fève (a bean), but today any small doo-dad seems to work; in our bakery they were using tiny figurines from the Smurfs, or as the French awesomely call them, Les Schtroumpfs. (If you can ever coax a Frenchie into pronouncing that word I highly recommend it.) Whoever finds this little prize in their slice becomes king or queen for the day, and gets to then choose a member of the opposite sex to complete the royal couple.

Well I want to be king as much as the next guy, so Charlotte ordered ours a week ahead of time at the boulangerie. When the day arrived we showed up like proud parents picking up our kid from soccer practice. There’s a little bit more fanfare than usual when buying a galette: it comes in a custom bag with handles and a complimentary cardboard king’s crown which the winner gets to wear later on.

I’d figured I had the tradition fully understood by the time we got back home, but as I started to cut into it Charlotte yelled “Wait!” and hit the deck. She then crawled under the table explaining the process of eating a galette in the true fashion. First, the youngest in the room must hide under the table with their eyes covered. Then the server of the cake (me) points towards each slice while asking aloud “C’est pour qui?” (Who is it for?), to which the youngest answers as he/she wishes. Frankly I’d never christened a pastry with so much theater, but after tasting this thing I can’t say it was undeserved. Basically take any croissant or pain au chocolat you’ve ever had and multiply it by several layers of crispy flakiness.

Sadly enough, we managed to get the only galette in the long history of France missing the prize inside. Charlotte was a bit disappointed that my first experience lacked its Smurfy crescendo at the end but honestly I was in it for other, more buttery reasons from the start. We plan on trying our luck with another one next week, this time with an apple filling.

I’ve already cleared my schedule.

7 comments

  • The ones round here all have a feve. This year they are little porcelain cakes. At work we’ve had eclairs and macarons so far (yes we have a whole procession during the month of January). There’d be a riot if the galette had no feve!

  • I miss these. My mom decided to make one of these this year (for the first time) and I have to say it was divine. Of course it was the almond filling. My mother is very french and very opinionated and does not do new fangled anything. Did you actually get one this year with the prize? And was the apple better than the almond or just different?

    • For my money the almond is what makes it, but it’s cool they make apple versions so everyone can take part in the action. My only thing against apple is that it doesn’t feel as special or different, as you can find apple pastries any old time of the year. And yes, since our first attempt all our galettes have had the prize, heureusement! Thanks for commenting Sophia.

  • These are so good and I still haven’t got mine for the year! Getting the prize is the best and if it happens to be someone other than me that gets it, then I just push that person down and go take it. Yup, this tasty tradition does perpetuate some violence in the house, but heck, the “let them east cake” saying sparked a bit of pushing and shoving here many moons ago so I guess I’m just keeping up with tradition!

    • Exactly Ashley — I’m pretty sure once you move to France you’re allowed one free beheading, out of historical reverence. And no one would blame you if you used yours to get a French pastry, certainly.

  • I remember this post from last time and because of you, I had noticed them more and more often. I was recently in New Orleans and yes, they’re sold year-round. One of my new cookbooks includes a recipe for this, though I’m not sure I’m feeling too ambitious as of yet.

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