In France, when the new year begins, all French people are waiting for one thing : eating their first galette des rois. This dessert, usually eaten to celebrate Epiphany, is a true French tradition.
Reworked by the biggest chefs, the Galette des Rois is now made with different forms and different flavors. It has become a symbol of the beginning of the year. This dessert is so popular that some bakeries provide it starting mid november.
But how did a simple cake become so important in French’s habits? Now that we think about it, where does this tradition come from?
An ancient tradition
In France, if we eat “galettes” during the first month of the year, it’s to celebrate the Epiphany (January 6th). At least that’s what we believe. In fact, the Galette des Rois and Epiphany have no link and have only been related because of their dates of celebration.
The galette des rois tradition comes from parties organized by the Romans to thank the God Saturn. Those celebrations were taking place every year, between the end of December and the beginning of January. During this day, masters and slaves alike were sharing a meal and a bean was hidden in a “galette”. The one who found it was called “King of the Saturnals” and had the right to ask for everything he/her wanted for the rest of the day. The “Galette des Rois” appellation comes from this short-lived title.
The Epiphany is a religious celebration taking place on January 6th for the Christians and on January 19th for the Protestants. This day pays tribute to the arrival of the Three Magi in Bethléem. The Epiphany is also the oldest Christian celebration in the world.
With the centuries, the Saturnals have disappeared and the galette has lost its ancient event. The tradition has been attached to the Epiphany.
A story of beans
The Galette des Rois has become a symbol of January, so does its bean. But by the way, why is it a bean inside? Because during the Saturnals, it was a dry bean that was hidden in the galette. With time, it has become something to collect each year. The bean can now be rare or priceless. Did you know the Blain Museum exposes hundreds of those?
The bean has become so important in the tradition that there is now a ritual to serve the slices of the galette. In France, the youngest child has to go under the table and announce the person receiving the slide for each slide. Because it’s the most innocent person, because he/she will always announce its parents first… and it’s also a great way for them to have a role in this affair.
Expansion of the tradition
Even if it’s in France that the galette is the most popular, several countries celebrate the Epiphany. Depending on the country,the recipe, using frangipane, will be just as the original or completely different: :
- In the Basque Country and in Spain, they are rather buns filled with candied fruits.
- In Denmark, this dessert is a “Kings’ crown” prepared with puff pastry and almond cream.
- In Lebanon, the recipe is very similar to the French one except that the Lebanese cake is often flavored with orange blossom.
Beside those countries, many other cultures have adopted the tradition of the galette. Don’t be surprised if you see some in New York or Tokyo. Like other celebrations such as El Dia de los Muertos, the custom has crossed borders to countries far from the original holiday.