Party Time Reenactor: Epiphany!

Just when you thought the holidays were over..THEY’RE NOT!  You know that song, the Twelve Days of Christmas?  Well the partridge in a pear tree is Christmas Day and those twelve drummers drumming appear on January 5th.  The next day, January 6th, is known as the Feast of Epiphany and is the true end of the holiday season.

Sometimes called “Three Kings Day,” it celebrates the Wise Men visiting baby Jesus   But in reality, it’s just another pagan festival appropriated by Christians.  It’s full of drinking and raucousness and CAKE!

Le Galette de Roi means “King Cake,” and it’s an integral part of the French celebration of Epiphanie.  This is another holiday classic I remember from French class, along with buche de noel.  It’s different than the Mardi Gras king cake, (which is–what? Like a bundt cake?) it’s a flaky cake with a surprise inside: a bean, a porcelain baby Jesus, or, in the galette I got once in Paris, a teeny Asterix. Whoever gets the treasure gets to lord over the party for the rest of the night.

James Bauman, in his charming essay in The Wilder Shores of Gastronomy, describes the King Cake tradition:

The warm galette is brought to the table where its fragrance and beauty is admired briefly before it is cut into the proper number of wedges.  A child, usually the youngest, is sent to hide under the table, there to act as the oracle…As he indicates each portion, the ‘master’ asks, ‘For whom is this piece?’ and the child calls out the first name that pops into his head…until all are served and begin eating in an air of anticipation.  For someone is about to find the Bean in his cake and thereby become King (or Queen) of the festivity.  To cries of ‘Long Live the King!’ he is duly crowned…Whenever he raises his glass all must cheer ‘Le Roi Bois! (The King Drinks!) Vive le Roi!” and drinks to his health. Pranks and general merriment ensue…

The cake itself is flaky, like a puff paste, and sometimes almond filled.  I’ll be baking up a historic recipe tomorrow, hidden bean and all, and serving it to my friends. Recipes, photos and more–tomorrow!