Sunday January 2, 2011- The first Sunday of January, most French people eat something known as the “galette des rois” – king cake. It’s a cake that people eat to celebrate the visit to the new born Jesus by the three wise men (the biblical three kings). In the Catholic tradition, the journey of the three kings to Bethlehem took 12 days (the 12 days of Christmas) and that they arrived to honor the Christ Child on Epiphany. In other countries, king cake is eaten for Mardi Gras or Carnival, but in France, we do it at Christmastime.
So, what exactly is a galette des rois? Well, it’s either a brioche with sugar on top (more common in the south of France) or a pastry with almond cream inside (common in Northern France). Today I ate the second type-not that Lyon is in the north, but whatever. Our galette des rois was a large cake made up of flaky puff pastry layers with a dense center of almond filling called “frangipane.”
The thing is that there’s a little charm hidden in it and if you find it you’re allowed to be the king (or queen) and to wear a crown! Traditionally, to make sure that there is a truly “random” distribution of the slices of cake, the youngest person is supposed to hide under the table and name the recipient of the slice that is about to be given out. I was the youngest, but since I’m American, our host spared me the “honor.” I was not the lucky person to have found the charm, but nonetheless, my friend who did find it was gracious enough to allow each of us to wear the crown.
Monday January 3, 2011- All members of the Genzyme Lyon ATS team arrived to work to learn that one of our colleagues, Julie, had prepared a galette des rois for us! It was the same type of galette as we had yesterday, but this one had two fèves (charms) in it. I was lucky enough to both get to choose who got which slice (without having to crawl under the table!) and also to find one of thd trois mages (three wise men). I guess that makes me the Queen!
And so it is that the year 2011 AD begins. I’ve got a good feeling about this year. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes me say this, but I’m feelin’ a whole lotta optimism. If nothing else, I look forward to enjoying more French pastries. The kings and queens of the culinary world, French people really use any excuse to have a party!