Let Them Eat (King) Cake!

By now I’m sure you’re fully aware that I am French. But you may not know that my husband also has a slight French connection. The fact that he hails from that old French settlement of Louisiana impacts our relationship in a few ways. Usually not good ways 😉 We seem to always get into silly fights about how he can’t muster a proper sentence in French. We also argue about King Cake… 

In America, King Cake is synonymous with Mardi Gras and rules over the month of February but across the ocean, La Galette des Rois is typical of Epiphany and reigns supreme in every French bakery and patisserie throughout the whole month of January. France’s King Cake celebrates the 12th day after the birth of Chris, when the wisemen (which are actually called Rois Mages in French) finally got around to paying their respects. The galette des rois that I grew up with (and have had as a birthday cake every year), is basically made with puff pastry and frangipane, an almond filling. My mom, on the other hand, likes to remind me that when she grew up, in the South of France, le  gâteau des Rois was a) only available for a few days around January 6th b) made with a circular brioche base topped with fruits confits. The cake she grew up with was more similar to the Spanish roscón de reyes and it’s clearly this cake that colonists from France and Spain brought over to the Americas and is now glazed with purple, green and gold icing sugar and served in Louisiana for Mardi Gras. 

My husband (and my mom) can say whatever they want but there is only one King Cake for moi, and it’s not a brioche cake and it’s not served in February. It’s also not easy to find in Washington. Nonetheless, here are 5 spots where I can hope to find a decent birthday King Cake today:

1) For the past 7 years, I (ok, my husband) have headed to Georgetown for my Galette. At Patisserie Poupon, they are available throughout the month of January and come in a variety of sizes. A small (serving 6 people) will set you back $19.50, a medium (8-10 people) will cost $29.50 and a large (12-13 people) $37.50.  

2) Le Pain Quotidien hasn’t been around as long as Patisserie Poupon and yes, it’s a chain, but at least you’re getting a decent galette. It only comes in one size and as I learned when I tried to buy one at 4PM yesterday, it’s popular and frequently sells out (so call ahead or go early!) Priced at $14.95, it is only available until January 9th. Which makes me sad, because that’s a little too early for my birthday party…

3) La Madeleine will be serving a 9 inches galette made for the rest of the week and maybe for a few days next week depending on demand. Hum… tempting! (price: $18)

4) On January 6th, Le Chat Noir is celebrating Epiphany with King Cake, bien sur but also with a play on the treat that’s traditionally hidden in the cake. Le Chat Noir will randomly hide five surprise tokens in the cake. Chose a piece of cake at the end of your meal and get a chance to win. If the token is in your cake, you’ve just won dinner! If it’s not, well, you still won cake!

5) Epiphany cake (or Roscón de Reyes) is a big Spanish tradition as well and DC’s most famous Spaniard invites you to savor his country’s tradition through January 9th. Jaleo will be featuring the Spanish Epiphany Cake which can be ordered for $25 and eaten at dinner or taken to go.

The common element of all these King Cakes is, of course, the traditional hidden “treat.” Whoever finds it in his or her plate, gets to be king or queen for the day.  All of the cakes are sold with a little paper crown that you get to wear around all day if you are lucky! In addition, in France, the tradition is typically to have the youngest person in your party hide under the table and call out who gets which slice of cake. It might look weird if you do that at Jaleo or  Le Chat Noir … but eh, it’s tradition!!

10 thoughts on “Let Them Eat (King) Cake!

  1. Enjoyed reading about this cake… how about another article introducing “buche de noel”, although maybe a bit late now because Christmas passed! No idea where to find it in DC but I never really researched.


  2. Interessant.
    I am too from France, through my mother who hailed from Toulouse and the only Galette des Rois I like is the brioche you mention, which we actually call “Couronne des Rois” and not galette (just like we say “chocolatine” and not “pain au chocolat”)
    The couronne from the South West looks like a crown indeed:
    – it has a hole… so it is shaped as a crown

    – the “fruits confits” – glaceed fruits in English- represent the jewels on the crown (rubies, emeralds)

    – and the thick granulated sugar represents the diamonds.

    The Galette Parisienne (or from the North) is just puff pastry shaped a regular cake. I always wondered whether it took its “galette” name from Britanny, as it does look like a crepe in shape, more than like a King's Crown.

    Never heard of the Spanish cake you mention though but will check out Jaleo, just in case finally I can find a real Couronne des rois in DC.


  3. Thanks for posting about this! I had my first galette des rois last week (delicious)! My boyfriend ended up finding the feve so now we have to bring another cake, we may be doing this throughout the month (who knows)! I ordered some feves through eBay and am planning on making my own since I can get the recipe from my family and online..we shall see. 🙂


  4. I am a very bad parisienne because I completely forgot to get a galette des rois this year! And my husband who hates frangipane certainly didn't think to get one either. Oh well, I lived vicariously through your post 🙂


  5. I am with you on the fun-filled tradition of Epiphany. We have continued our yearly tradition & bought our galette des Rois at la Madeleine on the 6th (in Bethesda) and it was quite a disappointment:
    The pate feuilletee was not crisp nor golden.
    The frangipane was minimal, bland and with very little almond taste…
    Could we count, to erase this sad memory , on a much better one at Patisserie Poupon ?

    The Gateau des Rois (brioche) that sells at La Madeleine also does not do justice to the delicious “couronnes”, filled with fruits confits and flavored with eau de fleur d’oranger that I had in southern France. In addition their colored sugar icing looks atrocious ! Can one find a more authentic southern couronne in Washington ??


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