Once again, thank the bon Dieu for La Gourmandine‘s presence in Pittsburgh and their adherence to tradition. January 6th began with my youngest coworker under the kitchen table while many coworkers gathered around a flaky, almondy cake. Why?
‘Twas the season of La Galette des Rois!
I learned about this tradition firsthand, when I studied abroad, in Aix-en-Provence, in the South of France. My cultural liaisons were not steeped in Catholicism, so my understanding of this Epiphany cake tradition lies more heavily on the flaky, butter, baked side of the spectrum.
On January 6th specifically (though often repeated during the month of January throughout France), the youngest person present hides under the serving table containing the Galette des Rois. The cake is cut evenly into slices for each person awaiting the rich, almond decadence. Without viewing the parcels, the hidden young person announces who shall receive the first and subsequent slices.
The young buck must remain hidden so as to prevent any sort of bias, for one of the slices contains the la fève. Literally, this translates to bean, but a small, ceramic trinket is today what the bean was to the French of old. The recipient of the slice containing the hidden trinket is crowned King for the day. With such an honor comes great responsibility- the obligation to provide the next Galette des Rois.
Unfortunately, the lack of Americans who are familiar with this tradition equates to an increased risk of a lawsuit. In our case, the little toys were not baked into the layers of the cake, but rather, they were sent in a small bag accompanying the cakes.
When I first experienced this tradition, it was the day of my 23rd birthday. The birthday gods smiled upon me, and I found a little seashell ornament in my slice, thus warranting my crowning. This year, I did not win, but I did manage to snag a little baker. Our kindred spirits belonged together, and he and his neckerchief were bound for some journeys With The Grains.
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I only knew of the Spanish king cake, but seeing as Jan 6th is my b-day (nearly named Balthazar) it seems I have quite a few more cake options than I thought.
Did you make this one yourself?
Balthazar!! Wow! This cake was from La Gourmandine in Lawrenceville. It is the almond croissant of cakes, which is to say it is the heaven of this life on earth. Happy belated birthday fellow January soul (perhaps the wintry births contributed to our quests for the heavier delectables of cuisine?!?). I hope you have the chance to enjoy this French tradition one of these years. I really should attempt my own!