February 5, 2015

Get them while they last!  Going, going …

What delights can be found inside plain brown wrappers! I’m speaking of French pastries, of course—specifically the seasonal Galette des Rois.  Hidden inside the round, golden brown, rather “plain Jane,” shiny, flaky, buttery crusts is (usually) frangipane, the traditional almond cream filling of les galettes des Rois, or the Kings’ Cakes.  And, something else, too—a fêve! This will probably be the last week you can still find une galette des Rois in Paris pastry shops, until they reappear next December.  Normally a specialty made for celebrating Epiphany, observed on January 6, I see this treat appear earlier and earlier each year—and stay around later and later, too.  I have discovered Kings’ Cake as early as the first week of Advent and continue to find them through the week of La Fête de la Chandeleur, celebrated on February 2nd.   For good reason!!

The Cake:  A centuries-old tradition, with regional variations and changes over time, certainly, today’s cakes are melt-in-your-mouth delicious—flaky, buttery crusts on the outside and crumbly-yet-creamy almond paste on the inside.  Best served warm, the fragrance emanating from the oven as they bake is half the reason I love them.  To make a terrific one at home, I suggest trying this recipe from acclaimed “foodie” author and professional pastry chef, David Lebovitz:  http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2014/01/galette-des-rois-kings-cake-recipe/ Remaining little-known among the throngs of tourists who visit Paris each year (because of their winter-only appearance and being overshadowed by row upon row of more colourful and fancy pastries), they are loved by the French and all of the expatriates I know who call France at least their temporary home.  It is the one French treat both of my sons ask for when they’re home for the holidays.  Seek them out if your future travel plans bring you to Paris in the wintertime; you’ll be glad you did.  And now to explain that fêve!

The Fêve:  Originally, the fêve, a “broad bean,” was a real bean hidden inside the Kings’ Cake, placed there for a game.  The game is still played, but the beans started to be replaced by miniature porcelain figures in the late 18th century; and by about 1870, the replacement was nearly complete.  At first, they were one-inch porcelain figures of the baby Jesus, except for a short period during the French Revolution when anti-religion revolutionaries declared the treat a “galette de l’Egalité,” and replaced the baby Jesus with a little porcelain “bonnet phrygien,” a red cap that symbolized The Revolution.  Now there are Disney movie and comic book characters; miniature animals, household items, cars, and more—whole sets of themed fêves to collect, new ones every year.  I confess to having whole sets of characters from the “Lord of the Rings” movies, for example.  Collecting fêves is serious business!  Here’s one example of the numerous websites devoted to this hobby:  http://www.epiphany-figures.com/

The Game:  If you try the cake, try the traditional game, too!  Ask the youngest child in the family to sit under the table and designate who receives each slice as the server puts them on the plates.  The person who finds the fêve in his or her slice is king or queen for the day, chooses a consort to rule with him or her, and receives the gold-colored paper crown commonly sold with the cake (or, make your own crown at home!).  The newly-crowned monarch rules for the day, giving (hopefully good-natured!) orders to all family members who join in the make-believe fun.

How to capture all this in 17–or fewer–syllables??

Frangipane fragrance 

Wafting warm from the oven—

Who will win the crown?

Galette des Rois 2014 2015     Photo of the historic Stohrer pastry shop at 51 rue Montorgueil, by Eric Hian-Cheong, www.erichcphoto.com

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