La Fête des Rois is a family tradition in France around the Catholic holiday of Epiphany (January 6). The tradition dates back to Roman times and involves the sharing of the Galette des Rois, a puff-pastry tart that nowadays one can find in bakeries in France from late December into January. Filled with almond-flavored paste, the delicious tart also contains a plastic or ceramic trinket inside, called la fève due to the fact that it was traditionally a broad bean. The trinket is hidden in the cake, and the lucky person who finds it in their piece gets to be king or queen for the day and wear the golden crown that comes inside.
The Galette des Rois is sold all over France. Last year, we got our galette from Boulangerie Poilâne, which has a long history in Paris and some say has the best bread in the world! It had a filling of pommes et noix (apples and walnuts), and came with a golden crown in the pattern of feuilles de chêne (oak leaves) like the crowns of French Kings and Emperors according to the note on the inside of the crown. This year, we opted for a bakery in our neighborhood, Dominique Saibron, which featured six original fèves, each a miniature painting of a brioche in a different style of art (Baroque, Réalisme, Pointillisme, Cubisme, Surréalisme, and Pop Art).
Each person in the family is cut a slice. Traditionally an additional slice was cut and later given to the poor. Each family member digs in and hopes that their piece contains la fève!
The trinket inside our galette was a very hard and potentially tooth-cracking ceramic painting of a brioche in the style of Pointillisme. Other common figures are baby Jesus, the three kings, and nowadays, historical figures and cartoon characters. The ceramic trinkets in galettes des rois from upscale bakeries have become collectibles and often have the year inscribed on them.
If you haven’t found a bakery near you that makes galettes des rois, you can try your hand at baking your own. David Lebowitz, a Paris-based food writer, has a great recipe here.