The King of King Cakes
Sunday afternoon I joined a group of friends at my neighbor’s apartment for champagne and “Galettes des Rois.” In Louisiana, we call it a “King Cake,” but it is served up around Mardi Gras time instead of at the new year and it doesn’t look or taste the same as a French galette…but it has the fève (broad bean), nonetheless.
The cake in France is a tradition that has its basis in Catholicism commemorated on January 6th to celebrate the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. The 12 days of Christmas are counted from Christmas eve until this night, but the season extends up until the day before the start of Lent…hence the King Cake tradition during Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).
Inside the cake, there is a kind of trinket now instead of the original bean. By tradition, whomever receives it in his piece of cake is expected to buy the next cake for the next gathering. It is celebrated in many of the European countries and in the U.S. — in mostly those states that were part of the Louisiana purchase. It is thought that the tradition was brought there thanks to the French-Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne Sieur dIberville who first set up camp along the Mighty Mississippi River near New Orleans the day before Mardi Gras.
The French galette is a puff pastry with frangipane, butter and almonds. It’s so rich (and delicious) that I actually chose not to go off my New Year diet to have a piece, and therefore I had no possibility of being crowned, which one might call ‘heresy!’ When a Galette des Rois is purchased in France, along with it comes a paper golden crown to be worn by the lucky person who manages to find the trinket inside.
In New Orleans, the cake is very different. It’s a sugary Danish-type cake braided with cinnamon inside, and topped with icing of the colors of the Mardi Gras — purple, green and gold (purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power). Gambinos Bakery is particularly famous for the cakes, that they call the “King of King Cakes.”
The trinket is often a little plastic baby (to represent the baby Jesus). One year, my then very young nephew made necklaces by stringing together these plastic King Cake babies, for which he earned a bit of money…and a lot of respect from me. I treasure the kitsch jewelry item to this day! Meanwhile, Molly McNamara took the idea and ran with it. See her fab designs.
In France, Galette des Rois fans will collect their trinkets to build a sweet little collection. In a recent spot on France TV Info, a Monsieur Bernard Joly was reported to have over 1,200 to boast of. My necklace couldn’t compete, with only about 20 of the little fellows making the circle.
It’s surprising that there haven’t been any lawsuits thanks to someone swallowing one of these little fellows or trinkets (or maybe there have and we just don’t know it), but bakers are choosing to omit them thanks to the threat of potential litigious customers. The FDA considers the cake as much a threat as the Kinder Egg and with it comes a $2,500 fine for being a choking hazard.
Make it yourself and you won’t have this problem. Here’s a recipe thanks to Anglophone Direct:
Galette des Rois
2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry
140g ground almond
75g soft butter
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 direction (so that they cross each other) to create the pattern.
Then with a brush, spread the yolk on the whole cake to give it a golden color.
Put in an oven for 30 minutes at 200 degrees
Serve it hot…or cold.
Or just go to just about any bakery to purchase it — a whole lot easier! For the best of the best, try any of these bakeries: Angelina, Lenôtre, Dalloyau, Hugo & Victor, Fauchon or Ladurée — all here in Paris.
A la prochaine,
(Mardi Gras New Orleans 2014)
P.S. When I’m traveling in France or around the world, one of my favorite accessories I take with me is my ITWPA Press Pass. I’m a card-carrying member of the International Travel Writers and Photographers alliance (ITWPA) which gets me free access to anywhere the press can go. New exhibitions in Paris are a breeze — with the pass, in most cases, I can walk straight up to the front of the line and be given VIP treatment, while saving me the cost of admission, and you’ll likely be reading about my experience in the Parler Paris Nouvellettre® ! Its really great! And you can have a press pass, too — just by clicking here and learning how to become a member like me!