Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

Epiphany in Europe: Sweetness to Share

“France, not surprisingly, celebrates Epiphany in an edible way. For several days from Christmas until the Feast of Epiphany, the French line up at bakeries to buy the galette des rois — the “Cake of Kings.” They bring these to dinner parties, and enjoy them as snacks and with mid-afternoon tea. The tradition of the treats dates back to the 14th century.

Each region in France has its own version of the galette des Rois. In the north of France, galettes are puff-pastry cakes, usually filled with fragrant almond frangipane, a kind of custard. In Brittany, they resemble shortcake. And in the south of France, galettes are brioche — a sweet bread decorated with candied fruit, and flavored with brandy or orange-flower water.

Traditionally, the cake is cut while the youngest child at the table designates who will get each piece (so there’s no cheating). Everyone takes careful bites of the pastry until someone finds the fève. The excited winner gets the fève, as well as a golden paper or plastic crown that tops the cake — and becomes king or queen for the day.”

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