French Style King Cake
“La galette des Rois” (the cake or “wafer” of the Kings) is a cake celebrating the Epiphany and traditionally sold and consumed a few days before and after this date. In modern France, the cakes can be found in most bakeries during the month of January. Two versions exist: in northern France the cake (which can be either circular or rectangular) consists of flaky puff pastry layers with a dense center of frangipane. In the south of France, particularly in Occitania and Roussillon, the cake, rather called gâteau des rois or royaume, is a torus-shaped brioche with candied fruits, very similar to the Catalan tortell. This version of the cake originates from Provence and predates the northern version.
Tradition holds that the cake is “to draw the kings” to the Epiphany. A figurine, “la fève”, which can represent anything from a car to a cartoon character, is hidden in the cake and the person who finds the trinket in their slice becomes king for the day and will have to offer the next cake.
Originally, “la fève” was literally a broad bean (fève), but they were replaced in 1870 by a variety of figurines out of porcelain or – more recently – plastic. These figurines have become popular collectibles and can often be bought separately. Individual bakeries may offer a specialized line of fèves depicting diverse themes from great works of art to classic movie stars and popular cartoon characters. The cakes are usually sold in special bags, some of which can be used to heat the cake in a microwave without ruining the crispness of the cake. A paper crown is included with the cake to crown the “king” who finds the fève in their piece of cake. To ensure a random distribution of the cake shares, it is traditional for the youngest person to place themselves under the table and name the recipient of the share which is indicated by the person in charge of the service.
Formerly, one divided the cake in as many shares as guests, plus one.
The latter, called “the share of God,” “share of the Virgin Mary,” or “share of the poor” was intended for the first poor person to arrive at the home.
The French President is not allowed to “draw the kings” on Epiphany because of the etiquette rules. Therefore, a traditional galette without figurine and crown is served at Elysée Palace in January.
Many bakeries around New Orleans sell this type of King Cake. It is important that you ask for a French Style King Cake.