For 4 years now, I have the privledge of an invitation to a Galette des Rois party. My hosts, Sara & Philippe, introduced me to the festival of Epiphany a with a delightful flaky pastry filled with frangipane that Sara, an accomplished pastry chef, lovingly creates every year. It has always been the celebration that I look forward to after the holidays to catch up with old friends and meet new friends. Last night’s celebration was exceptional.
Imagine my delight when I received my favorite interior magazine import, “World of Interiors” and this month’s issue features a history of Galette des Rois. Originally celebrated on the 6th of January, the Epiphany, or Festival of Kings symbolizes the 12 days of Christmas or the 12 days that it took the wise men to travel from Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. The King’s Cake season extends from the Epiphany to Mardi Gras day. This festival is also a touch pagan, originating from ancient winter-solstice celebrations when the return of Pheobus, or the sun, began and banquets, religious rites, and debauchery were held in his honor.
A “feve“, originally a broad bean (symbolic of an embryo, first sign of life after Winter, fertility, or new life) now a small trinket made from porcelain or plastic meant to represent the baby Jesus is hidden inside each cake. The cake is sliced, one piece for each guest plus one slice to represent the “share of God”, “share of the Virgin Mary”, or “share of the poor” was originally intended for the first poor person to arrive at the party. Whoever stumbles upon the feve is named King or Queen and gets to choose his/her consort.
There is a whole collectors market for the feves themselves in France. The porcelain feve began in the 19th century and came from Germany until World War I when Limoges took over production. Plastic feves came into favor in the 1940’s. Collectors of feves are known as fabophiles in France. A feve that dates before 1914 can fetch as much as 450 Euros!!! Today top bakeries commission famous designers to design feves for their cakes, Christian Lacroix among them! Fascinating!
Photos from “World of Interiors” January 2010 issue. “Bean Feast” article by Marie-France Boyer. Photography by Eric Morin.