Jan 20, 2020

Fève Fever: La Glaguette


It's January, and that means it's time for Galette des Rois -- the King's Pastry. Over the years, I've learned more about the holiday and traditions, and my fève collection has expanded along with my knowledge (but not waistline...yet).

This year, I decide to experiment and make my own Galette des Rois, based on a recipe I find online. I am notoriously bad at following exact recipes, but this time I try, I swear I do. Still, I think my Trader Joe's puff pastry may not be the size the recipe called for, and when I spread everything out, there is no room to leave an edge to seal up, even if I had remembered that step (which I did not). Ugly, exploding insides aside, I make a respectable -- if slightly underbaked and not quite circular -- dark chocolate, pear, homemade almond-paste galette that tastes rather delicious. It cleans up pretty well once we eae down the exploded sides.

At least I did not forget to insert the fève:

In explaining Epiphany previously, my dates were way off. In fact, the tradition of the King's Cake, and the beans (fèves) that were baked in so that the "king" or "queen" for the day could be selected, goes back perhaps before even Christianity. The Greeks may have started the fad with a similar tradition used to pick magistrates. Certainly, the Romans were known to have picked a slave as "king for the day" in a similar way for a pre-Christmas holiday called Saturnalia, in the midst of the darkest days of winter and as a part of the winter solstice / new year celebrations. In those days, the slave picked got to act like royalty for the day then either got a) put to death or b) put back into slavery. What a charming little festive tradition.

The modern version goes beyond just France, and just the frangipane, almond galettes I associate with the holiday. There's King's Cake (not King's Galette) in Quebec, Acadia, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Lebanon. In Southern France and also New Orleans, the King's Cake looks and tastes quite different from what I'm used to in Northern France. Instead of the puff pastry stuffed with almond, their King's Cake is more of a lightly sweet bread in the shape of a crown (i.e. donut), sometimes scented with orange blossom (southern France/northern Spain) and decorated with "gems" of candied fruits -- much more fruitcake-like. 

The cake is traditionally (and nearly always, it seems) colored purple, green, and gold, representing the three magi that visited baby Jesus on Epiphany, the January 6 holiday the cake celebrates. The colors are considered symbolic for Christianity: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

In Paris, the Galette des Rois is enjoyed pretty much all through January and then starts to peter out. In New Orleans, the season officially runs till Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday"), the day before Lent -- and the accompanying deprivation -- begins.

The Galette des Rois is not only cousin to the Gâteau des Rois, but also the Royaume (in Provence), la Chaudière (in Champagne-Ardennes), the Pogné or Epogné in Dauphiné, and the Galfou or Garfou in Béarn, each region puttting its own unique twist on the name, the treat, and the tradition.

According to a 2014 survey, 85-97% of French people eat something special for the holiday. 70%, mostly in the northern part of France, eat the almond galette I talk about. 11%, mostly in the south, eat a cake flavored with orange blossom. 9% eat more than 5 cakes during the season. And a full 68% cheat in order to make sure the youngest gets the fève, so I'm in the majority for that too.

The tradition in modern form seems to go back to the Middle Ages, but there have been some changes along the way. The first recorded instance of the cake -- a flaky pastry cake with almond in it -- was from Robert II de Fouilloy, the Bishop of Amiens, in 1311. During the French Revolution in the late 1700s, even the name "King's Cake (or Galette)" was dangerous. The Commune of 1791 changed the Day of Kings to the Day of Sans-Culottes (literally "Without Underwear" and a reference to revolutionaries). They renamed Epiphany itself to the "Festival of Good Neighbors" and the cake became the "Galette of Equality." 

But no matter how delicious the galette, cake, or whatever you call it, for many people, the main point is the fève. The first porcelain fèves may have also appeared around the time of the revolution, though some date the porcelain to a hundred years later, the late 19th century instead. All agree that back in the beginning during the Middle Ages, it was an actual bean, as it had been in ancient Greek and Roman times. By the 16th century, it was often a coin baked into the cake. One point in favor of the ceramic figurines debuting in the 18th century is that some accounts say that during the revolution, the figurine of the baby Jesus was replaced with a "bonnet Phrygien" which translates -- unhelpfully -- as Phrygien cap. It's something like an elaborate red Smurf-hat that was worn during the revolution and was (and still is) a symbol of the new republic. Marianne, the symbol of the republic, is often portrayed wearing this red cap. Sadly, I have no Phrygien fèves. Yet.

Since 1975, an enormous galette (about 40x bigger than a normal cake) is delivered each year to the Palais de l'Elysee and the Presdient of the Republic. But, out of respect for the revolution, the republic, and equality, there is no fève to be found inside. As a person who loves the fèves even more than the cake itself, that just seems sad.

THE CHEESE: La Glaguette

La Glaguette is an organic cows' milk cheese made by Caprarius in the style of a classic MorbierCaprarius is a cheesemaker located in Bain-de-Bretagne, a village in the department of Ille-et-Vilaine, in the Bretagne region. It's an artisinal cheese made from pressed, raw milk gathered from neighboring farms which is then hand turned and aged for three months. The farmer started off with a troupe of goats in 1989, as the name Caprarius suggests, but he worked his way to cheesemaking from cows' milk, as well as goat and sheep milk, that he now buys. For philosophical and quality reasons, none of the cheeses made by Caprarius are pasteurized, and all are organic.

La Glaguette is beautifully textured with a layer of vegetable ash through the middle, which doesn't add much in the way of flavor but it certainly is eye-catching and creates a slight textural difference on the tongue. It's a mellow-stink to the nose, with a sort of sweet-rancid tang on the tongue, and I mean all of that as a compliment.


Both La Glaguette and la galette are big, round disks with a little surprise in the middle that one cuts into pie-shaped wedges to serve. Also, I feel like this cheese goes well with all the mixed up names, traditions, and possible dates for the Galette des Rois traditions, seeing as how the name is like a mixed-up version of galette, and I keep getting the words mixed up when I type them. And I'm not the only one: on the Caprarius website, the cheese is listed as Glagette, though the label clearly says Glaguette, so that's what I'm assuming is the real name (the pronunciation would differ: Glagette/Glaguette = Glah-JET / Glah-GET).


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