It is no secret that the French have a great appreciation for food and one of my favourite things about living here in France is vast array of beautiful food on offer. There is a great enjoyment to be found in gathering a group of friends and sitting around a table to enjoy courses of yummy, home-cooked food and good conversation. At a recent get-together I discovered the tradition behind a specific pastry that is served at this time of year, the king cake, or in French, 'galette des rois', which is not only my new favourite treat but also one of the most fun things to eat.
But what is a king cake? This seasonal cake seemed to be popping up in all of the supermarkets and cake shops, along with the ingredients to make your own. Often round, the cake consists of a golden, flaky pastry, this puffy outer shell being filled with frangipane, a rich almond filling. It can be eaten hot or cold. This is the type of cake you will find in the north of France. In the south however they enjoy a different variation including brioche and fruit.
The king cake is eaten to celebrate the Christian feast day, Epiphany, on January 6th. However, the cake is enjoyed by many as a family tradition. There are different variations of the king cake in different countries, however this is not something I have really come across in the UK. Firstly, the youngest person in the room, often a child, sits under the table whilst the cake is being served. They decide in which order the guests are served their slices. There will be a slice left over which was traditionally given to someone less fortunate. A small token is hidden in cake which someone will find in their slice. This is often a plastic trinket (the cake I was served included a plastic cat!) The guest who finds this token in their slice is crowned king or queen. They must then wear a cardboard crown for the rest of the day and, along with whoever they choose as their king/queen, can boss the others around!
I really enjoyed being introduced to this custom. Yes, the king cake is delicious but it is also a great tradition, allowing family and friends to gather together to enjoy good food and good company.