What’s French King Cake?

Simply after Christmas yearly, baguettes and croissants transfer out of the highlight in French bakeries (a minimum of briefly) to permit the galette des rois—the king cake—to take their place. A puff pastry pie full of wealthy frangipane, it is a pleasant deal with certain to please any fan of marzipan.

However whereas many select their galette for its filling—which these days can run the gamut from plain to pistachio, chocolate to coconut-turmeric—few spend as a lot time desirous about that the majority emblematic of additives: the fève. (People might know its equal, the “child” hidden inside a New Orleans-style king cake.) Its very presence, in response to custom, designates the “king” of the festivities every January sixth.

American readers might suppose we have gotten our dates unsuitable, however that is no typo: In France, king cake—devoid as it’s of purple, inexperienced, and gold icing—is not simply plainer in look than the New Orleans model. The French galette additionally stands out in that it is served, not on Mardi Gras Tuesday, however moderately on Epiphany, a feast celebrating the arrival of the three clever males on the beginning of Jesus.

Today, the galette season in France has expanded previous the sixth: Any trendy January get-together invitations the presence of a galette. (I personally sampled 10 final January alone.) Earlier than tucking in, custom calls for that the youngest member of the social gathering climb below the desk, asserting upon whom every slice must be bestowed. The one who finds the porcelain fève in his or her piece earns the title of king.

What’s a Fève?

Fèves, as their identify suggests, had been initially easy dried fava beans, used as tokens to designate short-term kings in traditions relationship again to Historic Rome. After all, on this pre-New-Testomony period, fèves had nothing to do with Epiphany. Relatively, in honor of the winter solstice any form of hierarchy was briefly eradicated, giving even the bottom citizen the chance to be designated king by the tiny bean symbolizing imminent spring. Little by little, as with many pagan traditions, the fève turned half and parcel with Catholic Epiphany celebrations.

It wasn’t till the Center Ages that the fava bean was changed by a porcelain trinket, a change made, in response to Nationwide Geographic, to scale back the danger of dishonest. Within the nineteenth century, porcelain fèves had been lengthy imported from Saxony, and in response to passionate fève collector Cyrinne Prudhomme (the lady behind the fève-specific web site, Fabophile), these intricate, hand-painted fèves shortly developed from easy bare infants to embody different themes like animals or enjoying playing cards.

The custom almost disappeared throughout the French Revolution, when secularism started to take maintain and being named a king made you a great candidate for the guillotine. In 1793, makes an attempt had been made to forbid the cake altogether, however the French, by no means one to say no to pastry, largely ignored the legislation. Some baked up “equality” galettes sans fève, and it is this iteration that has been served on the Elysée palace for the reason that time of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. However for many, fèves soldiered on. After the First World Conflict, their manufacturing was moved native, to Limoges, a metropolis already well-known for its porcelain trade. At this time limit, Prudhomme says, “fèves turned fairly plain, for lack of time, manpower, and means.”

Limoges nonetheless remained the capital of fèves till the center of the twentieth century, when plastic collectible figurines slowly started changing the porcelain ones. By 1988, Limoges Castel, the porcelain fève specialist that, at its peak, turned out a number of million fèves a 12 months, had ceased manufacturing altogether.

A Collector’s Merchandise

Prudhomme began her fève assortment within the early Eighties, on the tender age of 5. “The little object was cute and tiny, and we may simply conceal it in our pockets to commerce discreetly with our associates in school,” she remembers.

The will to show her curiosity into a group appeared “solely pure.” Her first fèves, nonetheless, had been “nothing extraordinary,” she says. They had been largely plain white and their form, measurement, and design remained constant over time.

All that modified in 1989 when prompted by the bicentennial of the French Revolution, porcelain fèves started their resurgence in France. In 1990, two years after Limoges Castel had ceased manufacturing, Jean-Michel Rojat based Panessiel close to Grenoble, an organization with the purpose of preserving the custom of made-in-France fèves. Quickly after, Prudhomme says, well-known pastry cooks “started producing their very own fashions.”

“Some put themselves center-stage by making fèves in their very own picture, or within the picture of their pastry outlets,” says Prudhomme. Others produced toy-like characters to catch the attention of kids or engineered ranges like Pierre Hermé’s puzzle items, which inspired customers to finish the set (and thus purchase much more galettes).

“There have been so many who it was inconceivable to gather all of them,” Prudhomme remembers.

Artisan Fèves for Artisan Bakers

Whereas right this moment 95 % of fèves are made in Asia, the French market chief Panessiel makes some a million annually and produced its 10 millionth French fève this previous November. It is the fève producer of alternative for a few of French pastry’s most well-known names, together with Pierre Hermé and Cyril Lignac. However some bakers depend on even smaller native producers.

Camille Drozdz and Anthony Bureau are the ceramicists and co-owners of Ici l’Atelier, in La Ciotat, not removed from Marseille. At one of the best of a Nicoise chef, they started making their very own fèves a number of years in the past.

“Phrase of mouth did its work, and some shoppers who had seen the items we made for her adopted,” they recalled. “The thought of ​​engaged on a sculpture on a small scale seduced us instantly, allying our creativity, our savoir-faire, and that of an artisan baker and pastry chef.”

Above all, Drozdz and Bureau are intrigued by the prospect of propagating this custom in a recent means, crafting distinctive collections for every baker with whom they work. Drozdz remembers her personal Epiphany reminiscences: uniting across the previous wood desk at her grandmother’s home together with her sisters and cousins.

“The odor of sizzling butter within the puff pastry,” recalled Drozdz, “And I, the youngest, below the desk proudly referred to as out who would get each bit.”

Anthony Courteille is the baker behind Paris’ Sain Boulangerie, a bakery recognized for its natural components and artisan savoir-faire. He too remembers the galettes of his youth. “I beloved it,” he says. “Simply think about: You are a child; you are six or seven, and also you’re informed you might be king.”

He bakes two galettes every season: one plain, and one flavored. Final 12 months’s chocolate-hazelnut will this 12 months get replaced by a collaboration with Parisian espresso store La Principal Noire, whose turmeric-scented Golden Paste—often used as a base for golden milk lattes—can be married with coconut and pineapple. Coirteille’s fèves had been designed by Audrey Giacomini of Giaco Studio in Montreuil, simply exterior of Paris. Every includes a gap, encouraging the finder to repurpose it into earrings or a necklace.

“I believe it is a disgrace, in our society of over-consumption, that we now not give worth to issues,” mentioned Courteille of his inspiration. “You’ll be able to create a narrative with this object and provides it worth.” Three new fèves derived from Giacomini and Courteille’s collaboration: a leaf, an almond, and—in a tribute to the trinket’s humble origins—a fava bean.



Have you ever tried a French galette des rois? Tell us your ideas beneath!

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