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Riviera Pebbles Blog: Celebrating French Cuisine: La Galette des Rois

Posted on 5th Jan 2015 in Eats & Drinks


Courtesy of Steph Gray/Flickr

As the New Year begins, you will notice French boulangeries, patisseries and even supermarchés fill up their shelves with a special cake. Much more than just a cake, this pastry is a beloved tradition with roots that go back as far as the Roman Empire. But what is this fantastic creation called?

It is the one and only: Galette des Rois!

The cake's origins are in the ancient Roman Festival Saturnalia, once held at the end of December through to January in honour of Saturn, god of Agriculture. This festival of revelry saw usually forbidden activities, like gambling, temporarily allowed. However the major tradition, as with many celebrations of the period, was the role reversal between master and slave. The slave would be crowned “the king of the day” and designated a cake. The tradition changed drastically over time during so much that eventually a Galette des Rois even recorded to have been eaten at the royal banquets of Louis XIV!

Finally, in 1801, the Concordat set the date of Epiphany as the 6th of January, establishing the long running tradition of the Galette des Rois in France, not dissimilar to how we celebrate shrove Tuesday in the UK.

The Galette des Rois or king cake is still eaten on 6th January today, and not only in France: it is also commonplace in Spain and even celebrated in the southern states of America where the legacy of 18th-century French colonialism remains a part of the culture.

Three different types of Galettes exist in France:

  • La Galette de Pithiviers: a round cake with flaky puff pastry layers with a dense center of frangipane (like marzipan)Galette des Rois de Pithiviers
  • La Galette de Besançon or Galette Comtoise, from the east of France, made with a choux pastryGalette des Rois de Besançon
  • Le Gateau des Rois, especially popular in the south of France, it is a crown shaped brioche filled with sugar-coated fruits.Gateau des Rois

The cake is made with a hidden lucky charm inside: originally, the charm was a bean but it has since evolved and was replaced at the end of the XIXth century with a porcelain trinkets, and today even plastic trinkets are used. Many people collect the charms each year as a hobby.

You can find ingredients and recipe for making your own on galette on chef Rachel Khoo's website.


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