La Fête des Rois
In France, the sacred continues to infuse holiday life and cuisine
even if some of the original meaning has lost its punch. According
to the Bible, three kings or Magi came from the Orient and brought
the baby Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Christmas carol
"We Three Kings of Orient Are" recounts this journey and
arrival. Today, the arrival of these three kings is celebrated twelve
days after Christmas on January 6. Many French continue to celebrate
this day known as la Fête des rois (Three Kings Day,
or Feast of the Epiphany) with its signature galette des rois
You know the Feast of the Epiphany is nigh when the galettes
des rois take over many pâtisseries in France.
In Paris, I was walking by the stop-worthy pastry shop Rollet-Pradier
in the Rue de Bourgogne in the seventh arrondissement
and spotted the tell-tale flat cakes resting in the vitrine
So what exactly is a galette des rois? In most parts of France,
the galette is made of puff pastry filled with a delicious
almond cream.* What makes the cake and the holiday eternally festive
is the tradition of hiding a lucky charm, or fève (literally
a "bean") in the cake. Even though pastry chefs today use
small porcelain figurines instead of a bean, the family still gathers
around the table as the cake is cut.* And whoever receives the piece
with the fève inside is king or queen for the day and
wears the gold paper crown that accompanies the galette.
A couple of years ago, a friend and I were in Paris in January and
shopping for Sunday-night dinner at the Boulevard Raspail outdoor
market. As it was a casual supper, we bought soup that was prête
à manger (ready to eat), une quiche aux poireaux
(leek quiche), la laitue (lettuce) for a beautiful green salad
with homemade vinaigrette, and some stunning brie au lait cru
(raw milk brie) for our cheese course.
And since it was Fête des rois time, we noticed the bread
and pastry vendor was selling les galettes des rois, both whole
cakes and quarter portions. Perfect! We bought a quarter-and took
our market loot back to the apartment. After a thoroughly simple and
satisfying meal, we cut the kings' cake and in my one-eighth piece
was an adorable porcelain magi kneeling with his gift for the infant
Christ. What are the odds, I thought. And I was reine (queen)
for a day-in Paris!
* The Provence version, however, is more like brioche, a rich
egg bread, and is studded with candied fruits.
* Les fèves have become quite collectible, particularly
the porcelain ones. While in Provence in June, I loved browsing the
long tables at this marchand de fèves (lucky charm vendor-what
a job!) at the Aix-en-Provence outdoor market.
December 31, 2008
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