The Cake Of Kings
I just noticed that dozens of people have come to French Letters today by searching on galette des rois, or the king’s cake. I thought that new readers would enjoy reading about this delicious tradition, which will be celebrated tomorrow all over France. Here’ the post I wrote in honor of the day in 2008.
Today, in honor of the Epiphany holiday, everyone in France is eating galette des rois, the cake of the three kings. And as far as I can tell every website about French food has a picture of the galettes in their entire uncut glory, complete with the crown that comes tucked into each bakery box and a mention of the little charm that’s hidden inside the cake. I’ll readily admit that the charm, still called the fève from the days when it was just a dried bean, and the crown that goes to the person who finds the fève in her slice, are both important. But isn’t it really all about the filling?
So here you see it, a cut galette with a frangipane filling, one of the most delicious flavors in the kingdom of pâtisserie. It’s an almond-based pastry cream with, in the case of this galette from the bakery next door, much more almond than cream, and a great hit of bitter almond oil. Our fève is a little ceramic king, resembling a monkey king perhaps a bit more than one of the magi, but still, a real king. This was breakfast for the four of us, one of whom was a cat whose taste for almonds is as yet undeveloped, another was a king without a country. So naturally, just naturally, the crown went to me.
And then later I got another, much more fun, honor. We were invited to some friends’ house for a proper galette des rois evening, and there were eight of us and two different kinds of cake. Traditionally the youngest child gets under the table while a parent cuts the cake, and it’s the kid who decides,without seeing the cake, who will get each slice. That way there’s supposed to be no favoritism on the part of the cake-cutter in determining whose slice will contain the fève and thus who will wear the crown. Totally unexpectedly I was the youngest person at the table, admittedly not by much, but enough for me to get under there and have a good look at the shoes and socks of the other guests while deciding which slice went to whom and whether I should bite anyone’s ankles. Not to imply that I lead a boring life, but that was one of my most fun moments recently. Chances to get down on the floor and under the table in the middle of a party are fairly rare at my age, and I enjoyed it to the fullest.
And although I didn’t get the fève in either of my slices of cake, we had an uproariously good time together, our Dutch hosts, one other American, two Brits, and a Swiss, all rollicking our way through a French holiday. Most of the time we spoke our version of French in deference to the non-Anglophones among us, and we happily corrected each other’s grammar and augmented our collective vocabulary.
And on that front my monkey king husband gets the prize for managing to introduce the word “yockstrap” into the conversation. No one knew the word in French and two people didn’t know it in English, not that it was actually English. Because he was wearing a crown at the time, we didn’t put him under the table as penance, but several of us were seen to wipe our streaming eyes as the explanations and analogies flew like feathers, tickling us all to the quick.
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