Epiphany, or the Twelfth Night after Christmas, falls on January 6. It is a celebration you cannot ignore when in France. For weeks before the special day, ‘Galettes des Rois’ appear on the counters of nearly every French bakery. A galette is a delicious, sweet pie made of puff pastry and filled with apple or frangipane. Here in the south, I have noticed a slightly different version of the galette: a kind of big brioche, covered with icing sugar and brightly coloured candied fruit. And sometimes it is even filled with a big fat layer of whipped cream. Nom nom nom!!!
I have to confess that we, and mainly our kids, are not really interested in the galette itself. In fact, the celebration is really all about the teeny tiny charm- called a ‘fève’ (bean)- hidden inside the galette. The person who finds the fève while eating their slice of galette then becomes the king or queen for the day. Traditional fèves represent Nativity Scene figures like Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, sheep, et cetera. Our children prefer collecting the non-traditional ones, which can be just about anything… from Barbapapa to the Jungle Book, from fire-engines to Calimero. You name it. Fortunately, you can also buy the figurines separately. This saves you eating an entire galette each time you want to add a fève to your collection. Much better for your New Year’s resolutions…
Savouring the Galette des Rois is a real social event in France. If there are any children around, you ask the youngest child to sit under the table. He or she has to say which slice is for whom. No cheating allowed! Dividing the parts of the galette is serious business. The person who is lucky enough to get the portion with the fève becomes the king or queen and can keep the charm and wear the golden crown that comes with the galette all day long. The next galette will be bought by the king or queen. When I was little, our king or queen could decide what to eat for dinner the following evening. As I also like this tradition, I combine it with the French one.
It can be a bit difficult for the younger ones if they don’t find the fève. Of course, this is part of the game. But sometimes, when I don’t want tears during the festivities, I secretly buy three separate fèves. Everybody is happy. And if the fèves are really nice, I’ll get the whole set. Although, that rarely happens. The first year we were living in France, I found the coolest circus-themed fèves. Including a porcelain circus arena. When I inquired, they were not for sale… of course. Asking in my best French if I possibly, maybe could buy this beautiful circus arena, I was told I could only come and collect it on the first of February. For free. Yay! It still stands proudly on our chimney. And it is very hard for any new fèves to beat our circus collection.