It’s that time of the year! Parisians are putting Christmas decorations away. The bars are filling up again. Traveling gays are going back to their respective countries. And the king of all cakes, the galette des rois – the king cake – has hit the bakeries.
Croissants and éclairs are good and all, but when a pastry is seasonal, you know it’s serious business. Celebrating the Epiphany, when the wise men visited Jesus in the manger to give him gifts, the cake is sold for the next few weeks all over town.
Think of it as a denser croissant with a layer of almond-flavored frangipane – and we’ve even seen them with chocolate-flavored frangipane at some bakeries. In any case, it’s delicious and, well, you just have to do it.
But you don’t simply eat the cake. No, this is France – there is protocol, of course.
First, the cake is cut into parts. Then the youngest in the room goes under a table (seriously) and calls out the other people in the room while another person distributes the pieces to each as their name is called.
Then you can eat – and come out from under the table.
Why the weird tactics? There is a fève, a small token or figurine hidden in the cake, and whoever finds it while eating gets to be the king (or queen) for the day – if they don’t choke. You’ve been practicing for this, right? Bakeries even provide golden crowns to go with the pastry, so you can embrace your inner queen if you win.
We managed to find this lovely little specimen of a galette in the Marais, at Le Gay Choc, a bakery specializing in all sorts of phallic-shaped carbohydrates. Unfortunately, you can’t win a crown by eating a penis-shaped galette (or anything penis-shaped, really) since there is no fève. But we thought we’d test it to see how it tasted, and it was simple but just fine. They sell traditional circular ones as well, don’t worry, but don’t rush here if you’re not next-door. Any local bakery will be just as good if not better.
Whoever finds the fève is supposedly meant to buy the next year’s king cake, but that remains disputed. Still, who’s going to resist buying another?
Head to your local bakery to pick one up, invite some friends over, and break out a bottle of French cider to enjoy properly. Champagne, as one baker told me, is too bubbly and flavorful for the cake – plus, after Christmas, the French could stand a break from the bubbly.
But pastry? Never.