Galette des Rois, or King Cake, is a delicious cake associated with the festival of Epiphany during the Christmas season, and also plays a part in pre-Lent Mardi Gras celebrations. This tradition is quite popular in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Quebec, Spain, Portugal, South America, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, and the southern United States (Louisiana). The indulging of this cake lasts typically from January 5th until Fat Tuesday.
Baked inside every galette des rois is a small, solid trinket or figurine, called la fève in French, that originally was a bean but now can be anything ranging from a cartoon character to the baby Jesus. Each cake also comes equipped with a special paper crown; the cake is divided up into pieces and the person whose piece contains the trinket or figurine is crowned king (or queen!) Here in France in order to be fair, traditionally the youngest person places themselves underneath the table and designates the pieces of cake to each individual, which is done by the host or hostess. In the past, the cake was divided into as many pieces as there were people, plus one. This piece was saved for God, the Virgin Mary, or the poor.
Here in France, tradition says that these cakes were to draw the kings to the Epiphany. Therefore, Galette des Rois are found in virtually every bakery during the month of January. There are two versions of this cake: those found in northern France and those found in southern France. Since I spent the holidays in Caen and Paris, both in the north, and live in southern France, I have gotten to experience both kinds of cake.
The galette des rois in the north of France are either circular or rectangular. They are puffy and flaky and contain dense layers of frangipane. In southern France, the cake is a torus-shaped brioche, like a donut, covered witch candies, fruits, and sugar.
The French President is not allowed to partake in this fun activity due to etiquette rules. Therefore, all galette des rois served at the Elysée Palace do not contain figurines.
We shared a galette des rois in Normandy before I left, and I was crowned queen! Our trinket was a character from The Hobbit, in honor of the new movie.