After the Christmas festivities, gourmets eagerly await the Epiphany period. In Provence, we savour ‘crown cake’ or the cake of the Provençal kings on January 6th, and as tradition demands, right through the month! The Restaurant Colette tells you all that you need to know about authentic Provencal King’s Cake.
A little history…
Here comes the month of January and, in Provence, that means time to enjoy the delicious crown-shaped bun with the hole in the middle that’s scented with orange blossom, decorated with candied fruits and sprinkled with sugar! For the origins of this cake we go back to Roman times and a pagan festival that took place during the Saturnalia. It celebrated the arrival of spring and longer days and a cake filled with figs, dates and honey was divided equally between masters and slaves. A bean hidden in the cake decided who would be king of the feast. The “galette des rois” is also said to celebrate the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus.
Cake of the Provençal kings vs northern frangipane
In Provence, King’s cake is a real institution. As soon as the end of year festivities are over, locals start watching the windows of the famous bakeries. Purists gently mock the northerners, those Parisians, so proud of their flat frangipane that only appeared during the reign of Louis XIV! The Provençals loudly claim that their round, plump crown, fragrant with orange blossom and gleaming with candied fruits that recall the precious stones brought as gifts by the Magi, is ‘the one’.
Provençal tradition: one cake calls for another
Today the Cake of the Kings of Provence hides two beans. The first, is normally porcelain and represented by a santon that is used to decide the king or queen. The second bean is a humble seed and it’s intended for the person who will pay for the next cake. Tradition also demands that shares are planned by the poor at the time of cutting so the youngest guests hide under the table and call out the size of each slice.