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FRENCH TRADITIONS

Galette des Rois: Everything you need to know about France’s royal tart

French families mark the end of the festive season by scoffing down a pastry fit for kings. Here's the story of the Galette des Rois - a tart that can make you feel like royalty.

Galette des Rois: Everything you need to know about France's royal tart
The Galette des Rois isn't just any old cake. Photo: Steph Gray/Flickr

As with many festivals in France, the feast of the Epiphany has its own special food.

Whereas Christmas and New Year’s Eve is all about oysters and foie gras, January 6th is all about the Galette des Rois (Kings’ Cake).

So what is a Galette des Rois?

It’s basically a frangipane tart made with pastry, butter, ground almonds and a few extra ingredients that will stretch the already bursting waistline for one final time before the January dieting begins.

It is eaten on January 6th each year to mark the feast of the Epiphany – when the three kings (allegedly) turned up to give gifts to Baby Jesus.

The tradition of eating the cake dates back to the 14th century. According to tradition the cake was to draw the kings to the Epiphany.

Interestingly during the French Revolution the name was changed to Gâteau de l’egalité (equality cake) because it wasn’t really the done thing to be a king at that time.

But it’s just a cake?

Ah but it isn’t. The Galette des Rois is not just about having a cup of tea and something sweet. There’s an age-old protocol that needs to be followed and it’s all to do with the little charm that bakers hide inside the cake.

First of all the youngest child has to hide under the table and tell whoever is cutting the cake who should get which piece.

Whoever finds the charm, known as a féve, in their slice (as long as they don’t swallow it) gets to wear the crown that comes with the tart and then names their king or their queen.

And then everyone just sits down and scoffs it. Normally with either cider or champagne.

Is there just one type of Galette?
 
Non, non, non. While traditionalists, and there are quite a few of those in France, might insist on the original recipe and shape, French chefs are getting more and more inventive when it comes to these galettes.
 
Even though no galette is the same in any two pâtisseries, some places have been working extra hard to stand out from the crowd.
 
In recent years one of the most prestigious pâtisseries in Paris, Fauchon, has created a galette in the shape of a giant pair of lips. Of course they couldn’t just stick to the original recipe and they added passion fruit, raspberry and rose petals to the mix.
 
Its close rival Dalloyau called its own creation the “crystal galette” which comes with a touch of bitter orange and Papua New Guinean vanilla. They’ve even added crystals to the crown. 
 
And new recipes are being promoted including a galette with chocolate chips and nuts, caramelized apple and dried fruit or even almond, pear and chocolate.

And of course we can always rely on Richard Legay, the famous baker from the Marais district of Paris, to come up with his own special take on the galette – see pics below. His boulangerie Legay Choc is well known for creating penis-shaped patisseries.

What’s the point?

It’s tradition of course (well maybe not the penis-shaped ones). According to Direct Matin newspaper, the pagan custom dates back to Roman times, when festivals were organised in honour of the gods between late December and early January.

Masters and slaves ate together and a bean (a fève) was slipped into one of the dishes and whoever got it was hailed king of the feast.

When the church instituted the festival of the Epiphany to celebrate the arrival of the three wise kings, the tradition of the bean in the cake remained.

I’d hate to find a bean in my cake…

Well luckily, although la fève used to be a broad bean, it was replaced in around 1870 by a variety of figurines made out of porcelain or – more recently – plastic.

These plastic figurines used to be in the shape of babies to represent Jesus but can now be anything from a car to a shoe.

Real Galette des Rois fanatics will collect the charms year after year and build up a fine array of little trinkets. One man named Bernard Joly has over 1,200 according to France TV info.

Some bakers, fearing they could be sued if someone chokes on it, put the charms outside the galette and leave it up to the buyer to hide it.

So everyone in France will have their cake and eat it?

Pretty much. Boulangeries in France love this time of year as their takings are boosted by the sale of the pastries.

Unfortunately the soaring price of butter this year means that buyers are likely to see an increase of around €1-2 in the price of their cake.

And spare a thought for Emmanuel Macron – who is not allowed the chance to become king for the day.

The French president is not allowed to “draw the kings” on Epiphany because of the etiquette rules. “Therefore, a traditional galette without figurine or crown is served at Elysée Palace.”

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FOOD & DRINK

Five of France’s new Michelin foodie hotspots

As Michelin publishes its 2022 guide, here are five of the most exciting new entries into the hallowed 'bible' of French gastronomy.

Five of France's new Michelin foodie hotspots

Here are five must-visit venues of gastronomic delight for food lovers.

READ ALSO New Michelin guide celebrates ‘resilient’ French cuisine

Plénitude – Paris

It’s only been open seven months, but the Paris restaurant – on the first floor of Cheval Blanc Paris – now has three stars, awarded to chef Arnaud Donckele in Cognac on Tuesday. Picking up three stars all at once is almost unheard of – only Yannick Alléno achieved the same feat in 2015 with the Pavillon Ledoyen in the 8th arrondissement.

Broths, vinaigrettes, creams, veloutés, juices are at the heart of the cuisine at Plénitude. A seasonal six-course Symphony Menu costs €395, while the Sail Away Together menu of three savoury dishes and one sweet is €320.

La Villa Madie – Cassis, Bouches-du-Rhône

Another new three-star venue listed in this year’s guide came as something of a surprise, by all accounts. Dimitri and Marielle Droisneau’s restaurant in the south of France overlooks the Mediterranean.

“We took this house nine years ago. We had a baby, we have a second one now. We live in the villa. We work in a paradise,” chef Dimitri said at the ceremony in Cognac.

The cuisine follows the seasons, and uses carefully selected local produce. As such, the menu changes daily according to what’s available. The Menu Anse de Corton – a starter, a fish course, a meat course, and a sweet treat – costs €130, while the six-course Menu Espasado “Cap Canaille” is €180.

Plaza Athénée – Paris

Top Chef series three winner Jean Imbert was one of a number of former contestants on the show to win a star for his restaurant in the palace le Plaza Athénée – with the jury praising his “impressive revival of the greatest classics of French gastronomy”.

Guillaume Pape – a finalist in series 10, also picked up his first star for  L’Ebrum, in Brest; as did series nine finalist Victor Mercier, for FIEF in the ninth arrondissement, honoured for producing “empowering cuisine, made exclusively using French produce”. Mercier was also named Young Chef of the Year.

The self-titled Menu de Jean at Plaza Athénée costs €296

Villa La Coste – Bouches-du-Rhône

Continuing the Top Chef theme, judge Hélène Darroze – who already runs the three-star Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in London – was awarded a star for her restaurant in the south of France, as was fellow-judge Philippe Etchebest for his latest venture in Bordeaux.

Local vegetables and fruit are the stars of the dining show at Villa La Coste, with meat and fish playing an accompanying role. A three-course lunch menu is €75, while a full dinner menu is €155.

Domaine Riberach: La Coopérative – Bélesta, Ariège 

One of six new restaurants to be awarded a Green Star for its seasonal food and it’s determined approach to ‘sustainable gastronomy’. This year’s six Green Star winners join 81 establishments which received the award last year in France.

“Slow food” is the order of the day, with menus created based – as is often the case – on the seasons, the market and chef Julien Montassié’s instinct. The chief rule is that food must be local – “0 km is our motto”, boasts the website.

The six-course Menu Latitude is €85 without wine. A three-course Menu Km0 is €49 – and a children’s two-course menu is €18.

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