Published on January 21st, 2021 | by Annabel Perrigueur0
The King’s Cake: History and Tradition
Only two weeks after the Christmas holidays, the new year gives way to a new celebration that is unmissable in the eyes of the French: that is the tasting and sharing with family or friends the traditional galette des rois, on the first Sunday of January on the occasion of the Epiphany.
Together, let’s discover the origins and traditions that made this golden cake so famous!
Epiphany, a Catholic feast
In addition to its taste connotation that we attribute to it, the Epiphany remains above all a religious feast. It takes its origins from the Greek word Epiphanéia which means “apparition or advent” because shortly after the birth of Jesus, the three wise men would have come to give him offerings by way of worship. Until the end of the 4th century, January 6 remained the only feast celebrating the manifestation of Christ to the world. The feast of the Nativity on December 25 is later introduced into the Christian calendar. And it was not until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) that the church decided to celebrate Epiphany on the first Sunday in January.
The galette des rois, a tradition from antiquity
A tradition where we share a galette with a bean hiding inside of it on Epiphany. A custom that dates back to ancient times when the Romans gathered to celebrate the end of Winter Solstice and to honor the God Saturn. During these seven days of pagan feasts, the Romans designated a slave as “king for a day”. The latter could then fulfill all his wishes before being put to death or return to his servile life. We have to go back to the Middle Ages, to the 16th century exactly, to see that the masters had the same practices as the Romans. In fact, they used the bean as a ballot to name the servants “kings of the feast” for a day.
The bean, the essential element of the galette des rois
The galette would not enjoy such popularity without the presence of its bean, essential “to the king’s draw”! As we have seen previously, The bean has its origins from antiquity: already in the 4th century to celebrate the coming of Jesus with the adoration of the Magi then, by the Romans and maintained into the Middle Ages allowing masters and servants to reverse social roles. Until the 19th century, the bean was more than just a bean. This choice of legume was symbolic because it was the first edible seed to grow in the spring, it represented fertility and rebirth. It was then replaced by porcelain from Saxony, thus preventing the king of the time from choking on it. Today, made of porcelain or plastic, the bean itself has become a real collector’s item and has gained as big of a cult following as the galette itself!
Tradition in its composition
The recipe for the galette des rois is simple and tasty: a crispy, buttery puff pastry under which lies an almond cream mixed with a pastry cream commonly known as frangipane.
This article was translated in English by John Wilmot.