King (or Queen) for a Day


One way to crash a birthday party (in a good way) is with a galette des rois, the traditional cake consumed in France to celebrate Epiphany, generally on the first Sunday after Christmas. The explanation I gave my friend and her guests of the complicated history behind the cake was somewhat abridged, but here’s the real deal. A fève is tucked inside every cake, be it a galette (a puff pastry confection filled with crème d’amande) or a gâteau (brioche studded with candied fruits). Once produced in porcelain, contemporary versions are often made of plastic. Iterations might be a Disney character or a silver trinket inspired by Aston-Martin (if you’re lucky enough to order your cake from Lenôtre in 2013).

The connection to the three Wise Men who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to a newborn King has mostly gotten lost over the years. Instead, Épiphanie has become a happy mêlée of cake and crowns and hidden treasures that coalesce with an ancient 10-day Roman festival, a time when slaves and masters exchanged roles and swapped clothing until the time of Misrule came to a close. I swear I didn’t rig it, but the birthday girl we were honoring this year wound up finding the prize. Paris Bakery in Los Angeles must have known Jo is still a blushing bride after four years — her fève turned out to be a dragée, the almond wedding candy doled out on the big day.


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