So as I mentioned in my last post, Liz and I went to a Galette des Rois party on Saturday night. A few months ago, when I attended the Harvard Business School presentation in Paris, I met a French-American Harvard graduate called Jonathan, and he kindly invited me to the party. It was such fun: everyone was so friendly and interesting and loads of people had brought cake and were actually baking throughout the party so there was a constant supply of freshly baked cookies!
This all made me consider what a house party is like in England (as opposed to a dinner party). No civilised drinks (on Saturday we had wine and dessert wine as well as the usual soft drinks). No high quality food. Just a lot of drunken debauchery and alcohol. And if you like that sort of thing, more power to you. But I don’t, and never have. Jonathan’s party combined everything I like in a party: smart, nice, interesting yet unpretentious people (can’t be doing with discussing serious intellectual subjects all night), good wine, a relaxed and fun atmosphere, a little silliness and fabulous food. Cake, no less!
The evening also improved my culinary education, as I have been seeing these Galettes everywhere for weeks and had no idea of their history, meaning, or, most importantly, their taste!
I had the best introduction imaginable, because every year in France there is a competition between bakeries for the best Galette, and Jonathan bought the winning bakery's Galette. The Galette is a puff pastry cake filled with frangipane, an almond favour filling. I thought it would be very heavy but it was actually really light and the slightly salty pastry constrasts well with the sweet filling. It was unusual and delicious. I love the history behind it (please see below). Next year I think that I will make my own and celebrate in London. We had a great night!
History of the Galette
Le jour des Rois (the day of Kings), is a celebration of the three kings who visited Christ.
La Galette des Rois, literally means the Kings' cake. Throughout history the name of this celebration has differed as a result of the political climate of the time.
Under Louis XIV, the Church considered this festival a pagan celebration and an excuse for indulgence, and it was subsequently banned. This culinary tradition even survived the French Revolution when it became the ‘Gâteau de l’Êgalité (the equality cake), as Kings were not very popular in those years!
The cake contains a lucky charm (une fève) which was originally a bean, a symbol of fertility. Whoever found the charm in their slice of cake became King or Queen and had to buy a round of drinks for all their companions. This sometimes resulted in stingy behaviour and to avoid buying a round of drinks, the potential King or Queen very often swallowed the bean! This is why towards the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, the lucky charm started being made of china. The charm can take any shape or form and can either be very plain or more sophisticated (glazed or handpainted).
Here is our fève! A little hand glazed figurine. I'm not the one holding it, sadly. My slice didn't have the fève in it.
The Galette des Rois is made of puff pastry and can be plain or filled with frangipane, an almond-flavoured paste. It is sold in all French bakeries and eating the Galette at the beginning of January is still a very popular tradition and an opportunity for families and friends to gather around the table. The youngest person in the room (usually a child) hides under the table and shouts out which guest each slice of cake should be given to. The person who finds the fève in their slice of galette becomes the King or Queen and is given a golden paper crown. The King or Queen then has to choose his Queen or her King, by dropping the lucky charm in their glass!
If this sounds tantalisingly good (and fun) then you can have a try at making a Galette yourselves. I found an online recipe here.