I almost broke my tooth on it.
It was the evening of Twelfth Night, the end of the Christmas season, and my parish church was celebrating as many churches and families do in France, with a galette des rois—what might be translated as a King’s Cake.
We don’t just sit down and eat this cake, mind you. There’s an age-old protocol that needs to be followed having to do with the little charm that bakers hide inside the cake. The youngest child present must hide under the table and tell whomever is cutting the cake who should get which piece. Whoever finds the charm, known as a fève, in their slice gets to wear the crown that comes with the tart and then names their king or their queen.
That year, I found the fève in my slice, and I can still remember my excitement (even though the tooth that had crunched it hurt!) I got to wear the crown. I got to be queen. I think I was all of six years old. I will remember it forever.
For many people, Epiphany is a matter of ending Christmas. We take down the Christmas tree, we put away the decorations and lights until next year, we give the place a good cleaning. But Epiphany as its own celebration often gets lost in all of that.
Epiphany, for Catholics, marks the coming of the three kings, the wise men, the Magi, who arrived from the mysterious East and brought exotic gifts rich in symbolism to the newly born Jesus. Epiphany means “showing” or “appearance,” and it’s traditionally associated with bringing Jesus and the Gospel out into the world, making it clear that he came for everyone.
In a sense, Epiphany is the perfect New Year’s celebration. Every year we make resolutions that we hope will help us somehow “get it right” this year. The Feast of the Epiphany is also about getting it right: making sure that the whole world, and not just a chosen few, can be offered the gift of salvation. Epiphany teaches us that nothing divides us: not skin color, not language, not place of birth, not social standing, not wealth or poverty: we are all called to the manger, and we are all welcome there.
German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “And now we welcome the new year, filled with things that have never been.” The Magis’ journey brought them to something utterly completely miraculously new, something that had never been: a baby born to be a king. Epiphany reminds us to keep the wonder of that new year in our hearts. And that is cause for celebration!
A traditional French galette des rois is a frangipane tart made with pastry, butter, ground almonds, and a few extra ingredients. Want to try one yourself? The recipe is below. Don’t forget the fève!
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry
140 g ground almond
75 g soft butter
80 g sugar
3 egg whites
Mix the butter and the sugar until the mix whitens, then add the beaten eggs and the ground almond. Mix well.
In the middle of the first sheet of puff pastry, pour the mix. Lay the second sheet on top, and roll the sides of the sheets together towards the inside to seal the galette.
With a knife, draw diagonal lines in both directions (so that they cross each other) to create the pattern. Spread the yolk on the whole cake with a brush to give it a golden color.
Put in a 200-degree oven for 30 minutes. Serve it hot, but leftovers (if any!) are delightful when eaten cold, too. Bon appétit!