With no trip to Paris in 2020 to satisfy his professional sweet tooth, John Kraus is looking forward to January 6 the 12th day of Christmas, not so much because it marks the occasion the wise men, Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, visited the manger to pay homage to the baby Jesus, but because as a classically trained baker, the Feast of the Epiphany, is the day we eat the Galette des Rois.
Here’s how the first American-born chef to be inducted into Relais Desserts, a 100-member organization representing the cream of the crop of French pastry chefs, describes it:
“Legend has it that the cakes were used to lure the kings to the Epiphany, a tradition dating back to the 14th century, and one that’s still going strong. Every year in France, this cake represents the convergence of excitement and history in a culture that absolutely loves to celebrate both. The Fête des Rois is a national tradition, and like many things French, it’s a beautiful and delicious one. Every shop in France begins preparations in December to make thousands of the Galette des Rois, or king’s cake. While the French population is no longer very religious in general, much of the country, whether religious or not, old or young, still gets excited about this ritual.”
The delicacy is available at both his Rose Street Patisserie in St. Paul and Patisserie 46 in Minneapolis from January 6-13, and was available for pre-order on Tock. People with pick-up orders for the 6th received a small slice of a giant Galette des Rois, with the caveat, “while supplies last.” Hidden within the two layers of the large buttery puff pastry is a lucky trinket.
For French families gathering to eat the cakes, it was enough to be the one whose slice of cake produced the lucky “féve,” but Kraus is sweetening the deal for his customers by providing the two customers—one at each bakery— who find the féve in their piece of the giant pastry with a $50 gift card and a crown.
The galette, which can take many shapes and forms, is a buttery puff pastry crisp with an almond filling. “This filling can transport the senses with rum, vanilla, pistachio, butter and almonds; the first bite of the year is enough to challenge all things held to be sacred,” Kraus says.
When a family sits down to eat the galette, tradition mandates that the pastry is cut into the exact number of pieces for the people at the table, plus one—either to be shared with a stranger in need or left for the Holy Spirit. The person who finds the féve wears a crown and is “king for a day.” A much nicer treat than the milk and cookies Santa is privy to.
A similar tradition is the New Orleans’ King Cake, which is a blend of coffee cake and cinnamon roll iced in yellow, green and purple, the colors of Mardi Gras, when it makes its debut in pastry shops. The King Cake has a plastic baby baked inside to symbolize the baby Jesus. Which also symbolizes good luck.