Sunday, January 06, 2008

L'Épiphanie

And you thought the holidays were over? Ha!

The first Sunday after the first day of January is the epiphany for Catholics, the day they realize how silly the pope looks in those hats. Or something like that.

For French Catholics, it's the time of year to eat galettes des rois, a tarte made from pâte feuilletée (puff pastry) and filled with frangipane (almond paste). All the bakeries make several sizes and varieties of the galette, and people (like us) will often buy several over the course of a couple weeks.

The galette comes in a special bag for heating it up in the oven.
There is small print on the bag that warns you to take the paper crown out before putting the bag in the oven.


Hidden inside the galette is what's called a fève (literally: bean) that is typically a small ceramic or plastic figurine. Tradition holds that revelers gather 'round the table when it's time to cut the galette. The youngest member of the group gets under the table while the tarte is cut and he or she decides who gets which piece. This avoids any hanky-panky in determining who gets the piece with the fève inside.

Our small, and not particularly special, collection of fèves from past galettes.

The lucky person to bite down on the fève wins, and gets a free trip to the dentist. I'm kidding about that part; it's not free. What the winner does get is a paper crown and the joy of being declared King for the Day. Imagine how many kings there are running around France this time of year. In addition to his other regal duties, the king is responsible for getting the next galette.

Our first galette of 2008 - not likely to be our last!

Now, over the years, some people have carefully cleaned and saved their fèves to the point of building huge collections. These people seek each other out to share and view their collections. There are shows where you can see the series of fèves that represent the kings of France (some missing their heads), or Disney characters, or the original Broadway cast of "Hair." There are proud displays of rare and historic fèves. There are fève fairs where much buying and selling and trading of fèves goes on. And, of course, there is the ever-present news media to provide us with the requisite human interest story on the evening news.

The people who engage in all of this are called favophiles and they practice favophilie. Sounds dirty, but it's not. Except for all that frangipane on their fingers.

And there is no rest for the weary. As all this winds down and February approaches, we will get out our trusty crêpe pans and mix up the batter for la Chandeleur, another Catholic holiday celebrating the holy pancake.

11 comments:

  1. I agree, the cakes just keep on coming!

    I used to get motivated to make my own galette des rois when the girls were younger, but find that I'm a little weary of them now. Not my favorite French dessert, although straight out of the oven they can be pretty good.

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  2. Bon appetit!

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  3. Marie gave me a few féves which I think are cute. I also like frangipane, so I must have unused favophilie tendencies.

    The bit you said about the pope's hat cracked me up.

    I hope you got to be king this year! What sort of féve was in your galette?

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  4. I don't know why I wrote that some fèves were plastic. I've never seen a plastic one. And plastic might melt inside a hot tart, no?

    What was I thinking?

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  5. Walt got the fève in the galette we bought yesterday morning at the boulangerie up in the vines. He didn't make a big deal of it, and didn't even put on the crown. I guess he's getting blasé. K.

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  6. That picture is making me very hungry for a galette. I wonder if they're available in the US, probably not, so the picture will have to do... tasty...

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  7. http://collections.listings.ebay.fr/Feves_W0QQsacatZ77804QQsocmdZListingItemList

    holy kazoly, you weren't kidding!

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  8. I never get hungry for a galette, they're just too sweet and syrupy for me. This is one thing I won't fight for;)

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  9. Claudia in Toronto07 January, 2008 02:00

    My mother baked la galette des rois
    (she used apples, and put a fève).It could be a king, or a queen. Because of the many children, we drank cider, not champagne. It was a fun day. You brought good memories, Walt. Thanks!

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  10. Ken got the fève in our first galette, and I got the second. He didn't put on the crown, either.

    This year we have two fèves that are similar. They're both little cakes with chocolate (one's a pain au chocolat), and they have faces, legs and arms.

    They came from different bakeries, but I guess they use the same fève supplier...

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  11. i got a plastic feve once! and it was while i was living in france too! i still remember it; it was a fish. i used it as my barbie's pet and closed it into a plastic bubble and put water in it and the fish in it too. anywayse, thats the only plastic feve i remember getting.

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