Around New Year’s, French bakeries and supermarkets start to offer the Kings’ Cake, the galette des rois, a round puff pastry usually filled with frangipane.
They are traditionally eaten on Epiphany (6 January), but everyone likes them so much they are available until the end of the month—coinciding with the big January sales.
Among regional variations, there’s the Provençal version: an orange blossom brioche, covered with sugar and candied fruits, which represent the gems on a king's crown.
Baked inside the galette is a fève (a ceramic ‘bean’ that can be anything from a tiny figure of Elvis or a Smurf to a figure from a Christmas crèche). The tradition is said to date back to the 14th century, when monks at Besancon (Lorraine) chose their leader by whoever found a gold coin hidden in a loaf of bread.
Today whoever gets a piece with the fève gets to be king or queen and wear the paper crown that comes with the galette. One person in France is banned from partaking: the president of France, because although he or she is the head of state, they can never be a king or queen according to the French constitution.
In some families, to prevent cheating, the youngest member hides under the table and says who should get each slice. However, some 68 per cent of those asked in a survey confessed to rigging the odds in favour of a child.
If you miss out, pithiviers is very similar, although minus the fève.
Images by David.Monniaux assumed (based on copyright claims, Steph Gray le 15 janvier 2011 (CC BY-Sa 2.0)