Friday, January 11, 2013

Our Galette des Rois, and more...

My mother, at home in Paris, would always buy a "Galette des Rois" in early January at the local bakery.  It was a traditional event.  I was not sure why we had it then, but I liked eating the galette. A similar confection here is called "King's cake" but it is not the same.  Luckily we have a French bakery in our area called "Douceur de France" and when we visited them last Monday we purchased one of their galettes. (Click on collage twice to enlarge and see better.)
It is usually said that the galette was baked in honor of the 3 Kings and started in France in 1311.  But that is not exactly true - the tradition for this cake is much older - it goes back to Pagan times.  During the Winter Solstice feasts in ancient Rome a mock king was elected and roles were reversed - the slaves or servants gave directions and were served by their masters.  The election of this king was done via a bean, or a feve (French for bean) inside a cake.  Whoever obtained the bean in his part of the cake became the king.  In 46 BC when the Romans adopted the "Julian Calendar" December 24th was the shortest day of the year, so December 25th was when daylight began to increase signaling the start of the Winter Solstice merrimentHowever, in 274 AD, Roman emperor Aurelian, who was a follower of the cult of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) decided that Sol Invictus' birthday should be celebrated on December 25 to upstage the Winter Solstice. 
 Sol Invictus, 3rd Century AD (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
The popular Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of Sol Invictus) starting on December 25th lasted for many years.  The people would wear masks, there were even parades with floats, called "carrus navalis" - which could be the origins of our current carnivals now.  In the cult of Sol Invictus it was believed that this savior had been born from a virgin, the birth had been attended by Persian priests (Magi,) had been crucified, buried in a cave and resurrected three days later.  He was called the Lord of the Light, the Sun or Son, etc.  By the 4th Century the new Christian religion, which did not like all these pagan festivals and felt threatened, held the first Feast of the Nativity in Rome on December 25th, AD 336.  It seems that, eventually, the Christian Messiah was merged with Sol Invictus resulting in the official church of Rome.  Scholars are still arguing about this, and since I am not a scholar, I just read about it.  Around the 14th century the Catholic Church in France changed the pagan galette into the "Galette des Rois" but kept its shape and color, round and gold like a sun, and the bean inside, still called a "feve" after all these centuries.  The galette has been popular ever since as you can see by the vintage postcards and plate below.
To get back to my galette I was the lucky one and found the feve in my piece.  We celebrated with a fine sparkling wine.
At first the tradition, in France, was that the bean or feve in the galette was a porcelain fish to symbolize Christianity or a baby for the Baby Jesus.  But this has evolved into a feve that can be anything - fruit, animal, etc.  People collect these feves and there is even a name for it, it is called "Favophilie" or "Fabophilie" and collectors try to obtain all the feves of a series or rare specimen.  Below are some examples.
My bean, or feve, was a little "lutin" or gnome- real cute.
The Galette des Rois is traditionally made with flaky puff pastry and "frangipane" an almond vanilla cream.  A touch of rum can be added to the cream and I distinctly tasted rum in my piece of cake.  When we went back to Douceur de France bakery yesterday I asked if there had been rum in the cake.  The salesperson assured me "no" so I asked her to go and ask the cook.  She came back, very surprised, and said "you are right - there is rum in it."  So this time we bought some Rum Balls.
In France you can find these tasty galettes in January in most bakeries and pastry shops.  The connection with any religious holiday has become faint, it has become more of a "traditional" French holiday and everybody buys one.  I was reading in a French forum about it.  A Tunisian lady (Muslim) was asking whether she could buy a galette.  Here was the answer: "vous vous trompez, chaque famille fait une galette à sa façon , nous dansons entre parents et élèves et nous partagons nos galettes. Les parents musulmans nous redemandent cette fête chaque année, même si nous n'avons pas prévu de la faire!" Translation: "you are wrong, each family makes a galette the way they wish, we dance between parents and students and we share our galettes.  The Muslim parents ask for this holiday each year, even when we have not decided to celebrate it."  I think this person is a kindergarten teacher.  She added that many people eat "croissants" the French pastry and don't realize that it started as a way to celebrate Islam.  So that peaked my interest and I researched the origins of the croissant which we just happened to buy at the bakery, too.
On the English Web I found out that the earliest history for the croissant goes back to 1683 in Vienna, Austria, during the Ottoman Turks siege of the city.  But going to the French Web I found out that, once again, this is not so, that it is older than that. It seems that French King Francis the 1st (1494-1547) invited Ottoman Suleiman the Magnificent  (1494-1566) to a banquet to solidify the alliance between the two.  The French pastry chefs would have invented a pastry in the shape of a crescent to honor the Sultan.  At the time the French people were upset to have a crescent or "croissant" in French, instead of a "lily" which was the emblem of the king.
  Even Queen Consort Catherine de Medici had "40 cakes in the shape of crescent" served in a banquet in Paris in 1549 (way before they were introduced in Vienna in 1683.)  In any case, I like croissants with my coffee for breakfast.
This past week was not spent only eating pastries.  I finished one of the books given to me as a present called "The World of Downton Abbey" by Jessica Fellowes.
  It gives lavish illustrations about the television series and good background information about the Edwardian era.  
Last Sunday I also watched the first episode of the third season of Downton Abbey on television.  I had not seen the first season but enjoyed the second year very much.  Actually I had not watched any other television series since then.  I was surprised by Shirley MacLaine's look.  I felt that the camera lightning and her makeup did not suit her well.  I also felt that her character was the stereotype of what an Edwardian British aristocrat would have thought of a rich American.  Shirley reminded me of someone and after looking in my art folder I realized that she did look a bit like the sculpture made of a lady reading by French artist Veronique LaurentDidier, who has a workshop in Pertuis in South Luberon, France.
Now I have to wait for the second episode.  Where will the money come from to save Downton Abbey?  I don't know but I would be afraid that one of the ways would be for Lady Mary to inherit the money her new husband is refusing to accept - that would mean that his character would disappear - maybe he might fall off his horse, or get a virulent virus, or whatever ....  Below is a vintage postcard of the real Downton Abbey, which is Highclere Castle.



61 comments:

Frances said...

Vagabonde, how I loved this post with the history of galettes and croissants, and even Downton Abbey in the mix.

You are so fortunate to have the authentic Douceur Le France near you. I am surprised and delighted to learn this.

I won't spoil any future pleasure you might find in watching Downton, but will tell you an odd little connection between my home town of Richmond, Virginia and Shirley Maclaine and her brother Warren B. Their father was at one time the principal of a Richmond school. Ages after that time, I took my only yoga class in the basement cafeteria space of that school.

Although never returning to any yoga classes, I do remember the breathing exercises and the meditation mantra our teacher bestowed on us, and can say it's served me well.

See how far a galette can take my wandering mind? xo

Pondside said...

I could just about taste that frangipane filling!
What an interesting post, Vagabonde. I didn't know that about croissants. I love mine with butter and marmalade and good, strong coffee. It's a Saturday treat here. I may have to run out early tomorrow morning just because of your post!
Like you, I have been enjoying Downton Abbey. Do you watch Call the Midwife? It is quite different, but another wonderful British show.

rosaria williams said...

There is always so much to see and learn in each of your posts! That galette looks scrumptious!

Nadege said...

This looks like a really good galette, filled with so much almond paste.
We always learned so much from your posts and this one doesn't disappoint. I am going to forward it to my friends.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

So much interesting information in this wonderful post. I enjoyed it so.

Pierre BOYER said...

Une très bonne tradition !
Miam !
;-)
Belle journée,

Pierre

The Elephant's Child said...

What an educational and delectable post. Thank you. And I loved the t-shirt too.

Patricia said...

Such an interesting post, thank you. I love history. My grandmother was French and I found this piece so interesting.
Patricia z

Nadezda said...

Vagabonde, I've read this history about galette and thought that may be our pie with flaky pastry and fried cabbage or apple or mushrooms went from the same time in France.
Thank you!

bayou said...

Yummmeee, I loved all the details about croissants and galettes. When I first came to Belgium, our next door neighbour was a baker. One year, he forgot to put la fève in all the cakes! Can you believe that there was a huge outcry from his customers and he nearly went bankrupt after that because nobody wanted to buy his bread anymore....
Have now the first DVDs of D.A. - we could not watch it here. I love it.

Fripouille said...

Ah, la Galette des Rois. Yours looks very authentic and delicious. Did it come with a paper crown as well?

My god daughter's father is a baker and that's why he was very busy last weekend when, as usual on that weekend, his market stand was stacked high with them. And it needed to be because he sold every last one of them well before the market closed at 1pm.

Thanks for a very informative article Vagabonde.

DJan said...

I always love to find out historical facts that I didn't know, and you never let me down! All that information about where these breads come from, and then Downton Abbey. I watched it on my laptop on PBS the day after, since it was one too late at night for me. I enjoyed it but I too was surprised at Shirley MacLaine's appearance. When did she get so old? :-)

Thérèse said...

Une bonne galette des rois: un délice rien que pour les amandes...
Je te laisse deviner pourquoi à l'Elysée il n'y a jamais jamais de fève dans les galettes... :-)

Kittie Howard said...

Vagabonde, all of your posts are interesting, but this one, OMG, I think it's the most interesting post I've ever read anywhere! Thank you, thank you! I had no idea how the croissant evolved. Oh, but these historical tidbits add flavor to any dish.

I once taught an adult English course that included a section on mythology. When one myth involved a baby left in the rushes, a woman burst into tears saying, "No, it can't be."

Happy New Year!

Putz said...

i cannot eat my croissants with coffee being a good mormon, but french bread and croissants were bought in etain down by the church every single morning to go with my hot chocolate at home

GaynorB said...

Really interesting information about the origins of Galette des Rois. As always your blog has been 'an education'.

David said...

Vagabonde, Very interesting post! That Galette des Rois is a beautiful creation. When we lived in Chicago, we had a classic French Bakery about 10 minutes from our house...and that's the only time I ever had a Galette. Not too many French Bakerys here in E. TN! Even a good croissant is hard to come by...but I need to avoid them in any case. A good bakery close to our home would add pounds to my already ample frame! It's 35 minutes to good baked products... FYI, my better half loves Downton Abbey! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Pat said...

How tempting to have a shop with such goodies - they look delicious.
As it is Sunday I had a croissant for breakfast - with some cherry jam but it was the flatter kind - not so attractive as the curly ones.
The most recent Christmas edition of Downton Abbey upset some people but I won't spoil it for you. I have enjoyed all of it. I agree Shirley Maclaine seemed over done - whether it was down to her or the writing - who knows.

¨¨*:•♥•: FRANCE*¨¨*:•♥ said...

BOnsoir et bien les fèves j'adore et c'est vrai qu'avant elles étaient très grosses et en porcelaine je m'en souviens car mon oncle était pâtissier et je pouvais lui prendre des fèves mais pas souvent
maintenant elles sont petites et je ne trouve pas qu'elles soient très belles
je viens d'en avoir une de spiderman rire
et je vais devoir encore payer une galette car j'ai souvent la fève
J'en mange assez souvent et ici elles sont dans les boulangerie depuis le 25 décembre
et oui déjà
J'espère que tu vas bien et je te souhaite une belle soirée

OldLady Of The Hills said...

I lOVE the history of the Gallette(my spelling is lousy)...So interesting! And I am a Croissant Lover, too...so that was very very interesting to me, as well....
As to "Downton Abbey"....I don't know. I saw the first two seasons and I wanted to see what the third would be about...So much has been written about this 3rd season that I felt I had already seen that first episode!
If you can Rent the first two seasons from Netflix, you should.
It really is a "Soap Opera"..and I say that with great respect. As to Shirley MacLaine---they needed a formidable character to spar with the Maggie Smith character---We shall see how far this goes.
Personally, I thought it a BRILLIANT piece of casting after two seasons of ALL English people except for Elizabeth McGovern....It was time for her mother to make an appearance....lol...and it had to be an actress of stature! Great casting, in my view!
But...in all honesty I am rather bored with some of the story lines---That is where the repetitive Soap OPera thing comes in...I will continue to watch this 3rd season, until I can't anymore because it bores me too much. Hoping that won't be the case...but, it doesn't look good, at this moment.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

P.S. More on Shirley MacLaine: She is an actress fulfilling the role she was cast in---How she looks is up to the Directors and The Producers.
If you want to see how she looks in REAL Life.,..I'm sure YouTube has some excerpts from last years AFI Tribute to her! She looks nothing like her "character" on Downton Abbey...but, she is 79 years old, you know! I admire her greatly. And one of the things I think is so great about her is, IF she has had "work" done---it hasn't really changed how she looks as a 79 year old woman, that much. It is why she keeps working and is cast over and over playing her 'age group'.

Emm in London said...

What a fascinating post! I adored every minute of it! I must say my mind seemed to warp a little at the thought that the story of the Christian virgin birth might have been borrowed from a pagan legend. I guess too will have to read more about that.

I love croissants too, especially when you pull them apart and they are still moist and stringy inside.

Vagabonde said...

Here in the Hills – Naomi, thanks for visiting. I have seen pictures of the way Shirley MacLaine looks now and she does look very nice. I just think her makeup artist and the lights in the show were not advantageous to her. I also think she played her part very well but again, the Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes could have given her better material to work with. I hope to see more of her in the show. I did not see the first year but did see the second. I’ll try to rent the first year. Thanks for the comment.

Arti said...

You're the perfect person for me to refer this question to: from a commenter on my Downton Abbey S3 E1 post, a few comments below your own, from a commenter named "Jefffreeland". He asked about a French phrase spoken by Robert in that first episode. Can you help? Here's the link to the comments of my post.

Al said...

Yum, all those pastries and cakes look delicious. There's lots of interesting information in this post.

Barb said...

Please! I want a bit of dessert right now. Preferable a French pastry - galette or rum ball, anything would be appreciated! Glorious photos of yumminess and a wonderful explanation of traditions.

Vagabonde said...

Arti – I went back and looked at a video of the first episode and listening to it – Robert is saying more or less – that this situation is topping everything – “Il ne manque que ça” like ‘this is the last straw.” It is usually said when a situation is bad and something comes up to make it even worse. But to be more correct, he should have said “il ne manquait plus que ça” in the past tense, meaning ‘that’s what we needed to hear to finish this farce…”

Arti said...

Thanks so much for your prompt reply, Vagabonde!

Vicki Lane said...

As always, a fascinating post, Vagabonde -- so much interesting information. I knew about the Kings' cake but had no idea of its origin.

Arti said...

My commenter jefffreeland has replied your answer to his query. Thanks again for your help.

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Ginnie said...

Only you could milk a galette like that, Vagabonde. HA! It reminds me of the specialty pastries they have here in Holland over the Christmas and Easter holidays, filled with almond paste. Ooooh-la-la. No bean inside, however. Maybe I can pass the idea along!

We purchased the first 2 seasons of Downton Abbey awhile back and are eager to watch it, now that everyone is talking about Season 3. Of course, anything with Maggie Smith has GOT to be good. I had no idea Shirley MacLaine was in it. I'll let you know when we've seen it all. :)

Peter Olson said...

Most interesting and fascinating reading!! I knew a little, but far from all that you tell us!

Just one kind little remark, Marie-Antoinette was not there in 1549. :-)

Once more, thanks for this fantastic post!

Naturegirl said...

French pastry and a history lesson..well how does one say it in French..."merveilleux!"

Jennifer A. Jilks said...

A delicious post, for the food and the photos and the history!
WOW!
Cheers from Cottage Country!

Vagabonde said...

Peter Good catch. As I told you on your blog I got lost among all the French queens. It was Queen Consort Catherine de Medici and I made the correction. It has been decades since I really studied my French history but this should have jumped at me. Thanks for the comment.

joyce said...

your gallete reminds me of the almond rings they have in Holland over the holidays.
Funny, I had never heard of that TV series before last night, when I watched Murdoch Mysteries and there was a guest star from Downtown Abbey on it....that's how it is, you have never heard of something then it pops up everywhere!

EG CameraGirl said...

Galette des Rois is a great tradition! Very cool.

Fennie said...

Merci pour tous les renseignments!
We bought a couple of galettes when we were over in Tharon and ate them on Twelfth Night at the party. I have to say unfortunately that I didn't find them as good as they might have been. I have made my own and that was nicer, but I didn't have time this year. I love croissants, too. But now you'll have to tell us the history of the Hot Cross Bun!

Friko said...

Interesting.
I knew the history of the croissant only as in your English version, as baked in Vienna after defeating the Ottoman.

I have eaten many galettes, but only the biscuit form, not a cake.


Make sure you say Downton Abbey always, not castle.
As for the rum balls, I love them. There is a similar confection in Germany, called Rum Kugeln.

Richard Moisan said...

Comme l'arbre de Noël, la galette des rois est une tradition qu'il faut essayer de perpétrer. C'est si agréable de se réunir en famille ou entre amis!

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Optimistic Existentialist said...

Ok the Galette des Rois is something I HAVE to try someday :)

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

Loved the post, the galette and the croissant history. I too am a Downton Abbey fan...I think we all are.

.•♫•. Nancy .•♫•. said...

✿ ❊ ✿ ❊ ✿ ❊ ✿
Bonjour Chère Vagabonde :o) !!!!

Les croissants et la galette des rois me font très très envie !!! :o) Miam miam !!!!! :o)
Les fèves sont très belles !!!

Bonne journée et je t'envoie de grosses bises ensoleillées !!! :o)
✿ ❊ ✿ ❊ ✿ ❊ ✿

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Greta post as always with masses of information. Gosh you are lucky to have a good French Boulangerie nearby. Keep well Diane

Miss_Yves said...

Amusantes, ces cartes postales anciennes, avec les énormes galettes!
A props, je n'avais pas remarqueé queje possède la même carte que vous, représentant les bouquinistes! Je l'ai même transposée en aquarelle.
J'avais vu la saison 1 de Downton Abbey, j'avais beaucoup aimé; j'ai manqué le début de la saison 2 qui est en cours de diffusion

Miss_Yves said...

Amusantes, ces cartes postales anciennes, avec les énormes galettes!
A props, je n'avais pas remarqueé queje possède la même carte que vous, représentant les bouquinistes! Je l'ai même transposée en aquarelle.
J'avais vu la saison 1 de Downton Abbey, j'avais beaucoup aimé; j'ai manqué le début de la saison 2 qui est en cours de diffusion

Fripouille said...

Hi guyz and gurlz, just a quick question if I may; what is 'Downton Abbey'? I have no idea. Is it a tourist destination? Could it be an oddly-named star in some far-flung region of the Universe? A dessert recipe maybe? Or the name of someone's domestic pet?
:)

Patrycja Photography said...
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This is Belgium said...

ha , delighted you have your galette du roi over there and even more so because you had the feve ! a lucky year for you !

Jeanie said...

Is that postcard in your collection? How splendid to have the Downton Abbey card -- very prescient! I hope by now you saw the episode and are looking forward to the next. And that sculpture MUST have been the inspiration for Shirley MacLaine's look!

This was a delightful post. I didn't know about the cake, although we hear of King Cake, especially with Mardi Gras coming soon enough. But the croissant also pleased me. I have been feeling quite unwell for several days and today left work, but stopped at the bakery and they had croissants so I bought one for lunch-- brought it home and added some jam I bought in France. And for a little bit at least, I felt a little better!

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Perpetua said...

Another hugely enjoyable and informative post, Vagabonde. You put more in one post than the rest of us do in half a dozen and all of it fascinating and so well researched and illustrated. After seeing your gorgeous photos and reading about croissants and galettes des rois I now have a craving for something flaky and delicious. :-)

claude said...

Bonjour Vagabonde !
Même à deux on se mange une petite galette bien bonne à la frangipane.
Cette année on a opté pour deux petites galettes individuelles sans fève. Ce n'était bien bien grave car de tout façon moi j'ai mon roi et lui sa reine (lol).
Ah, la pâtisserie française à l'étranger, elle fait un tabac, comme on dit.
Les croisssants pour le petit déjeuner, j'évite. Mon tour de taille n'aime pas du tout, lui !
Bises.

shooting star said...

that gallette is so awesome looking.................!!!!

and so much history behind it!!!

http://www.myunfinishedlife.com/

Vagabonde said...

Fripouille – Downton Abbey is a successful British TV series that is also very popular in the US. It is about the intrigues of the aristocracy and their servants before and after the First World War. Thanks for the comment.

Fripouille said...

Hi Vagabonde, and thanks. I could have Wikied it (yes yes, that's a verb, honest injun:) of course, but I thought it'd be more fun to find out here.

So. The intrigues of the aristos and their servants say thee? Hmmm. Okay, but will the bad guy get his much deserved comeuppance in the end?

I don't watch TV myself but I have heard this series mentioned a lot so I suppose it must be good. Besides, the Brits are known to be good at series like this.

My curiosity is in an ongoing being aroused situation, so I'll go see if there are any episodes or extracts on Youtube etc...

Have a good evening!
Frip