This week was the celebration of “Le Galette de Rois”, or The King’s Cake.
The tradition has roots going all the way back to the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia, which began at the end of December and ended in early January. Saturnalia was kind of like opposites day, and things that were normally forbidden were allowed. One of the main role reversals was between a master and a slave, with the slave becoming king for the day. This slave was determined by a piece of cake- a large one was baked, with a bean hidden inside- whichever slave received the bean would be crowned king. The tradition survived throughout tumultuous French history (during the French revolution, it became the “Equality Cake”, as all things royal were despised), and eventually became associated with the Epiphany, occurring on January 6th. For more information, check out my source, which also includes a recipe, which you might want upon finishing this post.
Now, in northern France, the King’s Cake is often a delicious croissant-y, round puff pastry with an almond (frangipane) filling. Inside, a tiny trinket is baked in, and whomever finds it gets to be king for the day- parents will usually rig it so that a child gets the honor. This tradition has made it to America (especially in New Orleans, but as a Mardi Gras cake), but the cake is often of a different style.
Of course, I absolutely had to try it. Thankfully, the bakery I went to had a two-person version- many cakes were huge!
I ended up finding the trinket. There was a paper crown, too, but it did not fit on my head.
Also; the cake was insanely delicious. The French are really, really good at this.
We celebrated on January 5th, and missed the crazy lines on the 6th- almost every bakery had a line out of the door.
Now, there are many leftover cakes at a discount, and I’m very much considering a second round.