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Le gâteau des Rois : a real Provençal tradition !

Are you more of a galette des Rois or a gâteau des Rois? On 6 January, in Provence, there’s no frangipane galette des Rois – it’s a gâteau des Rois (or crown cake) that’s shared. In fact, it’s eaten all month long!

Why do we eat the galette or gâteau des Rois on this day?

The tradition of the Kings’ cake or galette is a pagan custom that dates back to Roman times.

The Romans celebrated the Saturnalia, the winter solstice festivities (around the 20th of December), to celebrate the god Saturn. During these ceremonies, a round cake filled with figs, dates and honey was made and divided equally between masters and slaves. Inside the cake was a bean, and whoever fell on it was named king for the day.

It was in the 14th century that the French Church adopted the tradition. From then on, the galette des Rois was associated with Epiphany.

What is a Kings cake?

It’s an orange blossom brioche, covered in sugar and candied fruit, round in shape with a hole in the middle.
The round shape of the brioche symbolises the journey of the Three Wise Men and the candied fruit the precious stones in their crowns.

A bean and a porcelain subject are slipped inside.


  • Make a brioche dough with 500 g of baker’s leaven, 2 kg of flour, 500 g of sugar, 500 g of butter, 7 whole eggs or 10 yolks;
  • Knead the dough the day before and leave to rest, add chopped candied fruit (not too finely chopped), arrange in the shape of a crown, sprinkle with small grains of sugar and decorate with iced fruit;
  • The cake takes about 10 minutes to bake (or more if the oven is not hot enough).

Why a bean?

The bean in the galette des Rois dates back to Roman times. An important symbol of fertility for them, the bean was very common during winter solstice celebrations… And everyone had one at home!

In Provence, as well as the traditional fava bean, there is also a ceramic figurine – a local colour – called a santon.

For the record, every year the Élysée Palace hosts a galette without beans, because pulling out the kings is not in keeping with the idea of the Republic.

Today, there are a multitude of fancy fava beans that are the delight of collectors. Collecting these little objects is called “fabophily”.

The protocol

Once on the table, the cake is divided into as many slices as there are guests. However, tradition dictates that an extra slice is added to the cut. This portion, known as “God’s portion” or “the Virgin’s portion”, was given to the first poor person to come along.
Here again, there are a few rules to follow.

It was customary for the youngest guest to hide under the table to allocate each portion. It is therefore normally impossible to get the biggest slice or the one with the bean.

The person who draws the bean is the king, the subject is for the queen.
And to make sure that the draw lasts longer, the person with the bean pays for the next cake.