Around the beginning of January, our family started noticing all of these "galettes" in the bakery windows around town. I was intrigued by these round, flat cakes made out of pastry, particularly since the galettes were always topped by a crown. When Brooklyn's teacher sent home a note saying that she needed a crown for school, I used it as the perfect excuse to splurge on a galette for our family.
Our first galette was filled with apple, making it very much like an apple pie baked on a cookie sheet instead of in a pie dish. We enjoyed our dessert, and were just about finished with it when I noticed with horror something big and black stuck in the filling of my pastry. Closer examination revealed that it was actually a tiny ceramic figurine (a character from Harry Potter, to be precise.) Obviously there was more to this galette tradition in France than we understood.
Fortunately, one of Brooklyn's classmates invited us over a couple of weeks ago to share a Galette des Rois with their family, and we got to experience the tradition first hand. This galette was homemade and filled with a delicious almond paste (frangipane). It turns out that frangipane filling is much more traditional, but they make apple ones too for those who don't like almonds.
According to custom, while the galette is being cut, the youngest person goes under the table (literally) where he or she can't see and calls out who should be the recipient of each slice. (This prevents any sneak peeking.) The person who gets the figurine is designated the king (roi) or queen and gets to wear the crown. (They also get to select a partner to rule with them.)
Galettes are eaten in celebration of Epiphany (January 6th). Traditionally, different figurines from the nativity were hidden in the filling. During the month of January, it's very common for family and friends to get together and share a Galette des Rois (perhaps best translated as Kings' cake or Twelfth Night Cake).
I thought it was a great tradition and a nice way to continue the Christmas season a bit longer, instead of crashing completely after New Year's. I even dared to make a Galette for our own family. Since I forgot to take a picture, here's one I snagged off the web. (Can't say that mine looked quite as pretty, but with equal parts of butter, sugar, and almond flour, it definitely tasted good!)
Cheers to the royalty inside us all!