Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Les Rois Mages

In France, the three wise men are called les Rois Mages (or "the sorcerer kings" ... more like "magi") and their arrival in Jerusalem on Epiphany is celebrated throughout the month of January with galette or gâteau des Rois.

A galette des Rois is puff pastry (that looks a little like a tasty, tasty Pac Man) ...

filled with frangipani ...

and a gâteau des Rois is a ring-shaped brioche topped with candied fruit, pearl sugar and, if you're lucky, there's orange flower water in the brioche or in the glaze.

These can also be filled with almond paste (not to be confused with the frangipani) like this one, seen here floating in the blackness of outer space that is what we call a bowl ...

(This is the version of King Cake that seems to have been exported to New Orleans, except rather than the candied fruit and glaze, there you get the Mardi Gras themed sprinkles in gold, green and purple on top of icing.)

Both the galette and the filled version of the gâteau have a santon and a dried fava bean hiding in them.

Tradition says that you're supposed to cut the galette or gâteau into one more piece than there are guests at the table, and that the entire cake is to be eaten in one sitting. So in other words, if you're six, you cut it into seven slices. The youngest person at the table decides who gets which slice, and you save the extra slice to give to the first beggar who comes to your door. Whoever gets the santon gets to be king and whoever gets the bean is responsible for buying next year's cake.

Since there were just two of us, we didn't follow the tradition of cutting and eating the cake all in one sitting with either of our cakes -- it would have been too much to eat in one sitting. Both times, though, James managed to pick the piece with the santon (and thus got to wear the little gold cardboard crown provided by the pâtisserie), and he would have gotten the bean both times except that on the second cake he had an idea where the bean might be and gave me that slice.

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