Learning about and celebrating French holidays is a wonderful way to understand more about French culture as you study this beautiful language. French tutor Carol Beth L. shares the basics you need to know about La Fête des Rois…
French Holidays: La Fête des Rois
For many people in the United States, Christmas ends at midnight on the evening of December 25th.
In France, more people probably still remember that according to the Christian calendar, the Christmas season doesn’t officially end until after Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night or the Feast of the Kings (La Fête des Rois), on January 6th.
Why? Well, because many French still celebrate it in one way or another.
For those who are practicing Catholics, church may still be an important part of the Epiphany celebration. It recognizes the day when the baby Jesus was visited by wise men bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, becoming some of the first to anticipate the influence the then newborn would later have.
Though Biblical accounts don’t give an exact number and describe them as magi (as opposed to kings), these wise men have traditionally been represented as a royal threesome by the names of Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar or Casper.
Galette des Rois
The most notable French tradition to spread beyond religious or practicing Christians is the galette des rois, a flaky cake with sweet almond or fruit-based filling.
A fève, usually a small plastic trinket or a bean, is hidden inside the cake, which is often sold with a crown. The cake is divided by the number of guests, plus sometimes one extra “poor man’s part” for the first person to arrive at the door. The one who finds the fève is crowned king or queen for a day.
Those living in France can find a galette des rois at any typical French boulangerie during this season.
If you are living in the US and want to experience this tradition for yourself, it is more difficult but not impossible to find une galette. Especially in larger cities, there is often a bakery that has discovered and decided to capitalize on the local population of French-speakers and Francophiles.
If you cannot find one locally, consider ordering online. Cuis’in for example, delivers galettes seasonally anywhere in the US and Canada.
Galette des Rois Recipe
If you like cooking French food, why not try your hand at preparing your own kings cake or galette des rois? We like this recipe from French Today:
- 1/4 cup almond paste
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- Pinch of salt
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 Tablespoons flour
- 1 package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed according to package directions
- 1 dried bean (lima or kidney beans work well)
- 2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 450°F. Buttered large baking sheet (not dark metal).
1. In a food processor, purée the almond paste, sugar, butter and pinch of salt until smooth.
2. Add 1 egg, vanilla and almond extracts and purée until incorporated.
3. Add the flour and pulse to mix it in.
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one sheet of the puff pastry into an 11-1/2 inch square.
5. Invert an 11-inch pie plate onto the square and cut out a round shape by tracing the outline of the pie plate with the tip of a paring knife.
6. Brush the flour from both sides of the round and place it on the buttered baking sheet. Put in the refrigerator to chill.
7. Repeat the procedure with the second square of puff pastry, but leave it on the floured work surface.
8. Beat the remaining egg and brush some of it on top of the second round. Score decoratively all over the top using the tip of a paring knife and make several small slits all the way through the pastry to create steam vents.
9. Remove the first sheet from the refrigerator and brush some of the egg in a 1-inch border around the edge. Mound the almond cream in the center, spreading slightly.
10. Bury the bean in the almond cream. Place the scored round on top and press the edges together.
11. Bake the galette in the lower third of the oven for 13 to 15 minutes, until puffed and golden. Remove from oven and dust with the confectioners’ sugar.
12. Place oven rack in the upper third of the oven and return galette to cook for an additional 12 to 15 minutes or until the edge is a deep golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly.
Serve the galette warm. Make sure everybody knows about the bean so no one breaks a tooth!
Are there any special French holidays that you celebrate? Share them with us in the comments below!
Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!