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La Galette des Rois

by Emilie Johnson

In early January in France the boulangerie windows are replete with Galettes des Rois (King's Cakes). The Epiphany celebrates the arrival and gifts of the Magi after Christ's birth. As part of this holiday, French families sit together and partake in this lovely dessert and tradition.

In Provence, there are two types of Galettes des Rois: one filled with frangipane, a sweet almond-flavored custard, and the other, a traditional brioche decorated with candied fruits and coarse sugar. 

As tradition goes, the cake is cut and the youngest person hides under the table. They call out the names of the people around the table, instructing who should receive the pieces of cake as they are distributed. In one of these pieces, a special figurine is hidden, “une fève” - usually a small porcelain figurine. The person who bites into her cake and finds the fève is the queen/king and gets to choose her king/queen. 

My husband’s French family honors the most complete version of the custom in France, going one step further. Since the queen/king certainly is thirsty after eating the decadent cake, they conduct a test of composure for the newly appointed royal. While drinking, they surround her and repeatedly scream at high volume, “La reine boit, la reine boit, la reine boit..” (“They queen drinks”). Can the queen finish her drink gracefully despite the pandemonium?

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