Rare, rare, rare is the occasion on which you will come to my dining room to eat a dessert I have not baked. However, when it comes to the French Galette Des Rois (King Cake) tradition, I defer to trusted Frenchies, and in the case of Pittsburgh, I defer to La Gourmandine. This cake is a seasonal specialty, so I wanted to share my enthusiasm and adopted tradition with friends.
I first learned of the Galette Des Rois when I was studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence. Good luck sprawled before me, a golden crown glimmered atop my head, and I claimed my prize! This good fortune happened to coincide with my birthday, so the crown seemed all the more destined, but after the first bite, the true destiny seemed to be the cake. It was love! Beautifully scored puff pastry flakes reveal a moist almond center. It’s the almond croissant of cakes, and I love almond croissants so much, I’d trade family members for them, if the circumstances demanded it.
Tradition holds that this highly anticipated cake is “to draw the kings” to the Epiphany. A figurine, la fève is hidden in the cake and the person who finds the trinket in his or her slice becomes king for the day and will have to offer the next cake. Originally, la fève was literally a bean (fève), but it was replaced in 1870 by a variety of figurines out of porcelain.
To ensure the fève, and more importantly, the crown, is received at random, it’s tradition to have the youngest person hide under the table and distribute the cake slices indiscriminately. The Urban Farmer was the youngest member of our dessert gathering. Luckily for this cradle-robber, he’s also a good sport, and he indulged my cake games.
La Gourmandine does not bake their trinkets in the cake to prevent unsuspecting patrons from choking, so step one was for all of us to leave the room while he sliced the cake and hid the toy. Then he crawled under the table, and together with Rachel’s assistance, he assigned the cake slices. Do you spy his descent in the photo above?
And the big winner was… Dane! The crown fit so naturally atop her head, she forgot it was there as the conversation ensued. Fortunately, my jealousy subsided with my first bite.
With satiated sweet teeth, a BIG bottle of bubbly and Bess’ signature popcorn, we continued to enjoy the snowy January evening and each other’s company. Meanwhile, little Julep protested under the table. As the true youngest, she clearly had been jipped of her rightful role. She comforted herself by snagging fallen flakes of buttery crust.
Though epiphany has passed, you might still be able to snag a Galette Des Rois at your trusted French bakery. If not, treat yourself to an almond croissant or two, mark your calendars for next year, and adopt this tradition for yourself! By this time next year, Julep will surely be wearing a golden crown, and hopefully you will too!