Provence is a land of many traditions and this one refers to what happens on the 12th Day after Christmas, which is the Epiphany.
We celebrate the Epiphany with a special gâteau, in fact a brioche infused with orange flower water, covered with sugar grains and glacé fruit. There is also a golden cardboard crown (couronne) which is worn by the King.
The origin of this gâteau, or couronne (because of its shape) precedes the origin of the galette I mentioned in my previous post of 7 January.
The three Kings have a prominent place in the Christmas tradition in Provence. Their santons (clay figurines) are an important part of the crèche (crib) and they are on full display on the 6th January. Before that date, they are placed as far away as possible from the crib and they are not visible. They travel discreetly each day to finally arrive and offer their presents to the baby Jesus.
To symbolise the offerings, one small porcelain santon and one dried broad bean are hidden in the gâteau. If there are children present, which is often the case as the celebration starts with a family one, the youngest hides under the table and says which portion of the cake is for whom. This prevents people from choosing which glacé fruit they will have and whether or not they will get the sujet (figurine) or the fève (broad bean). This is important because the recipient of the sujet becomes the Reine (the Queen) and has to buy the next bottle of champagne and the recipient of the fève becomes the Roi (King) and has to buy the next cake. This way, we ensure a whole month of celebrations, not only in the family, but with friends and colleagues as well. Normally, the Gâteaux des Rois are eaten on Sundays, at tea time, but people please themselves as to when and where they eat them.
Most pâtisseries also sell smaller gâteaux des Rois which do not contain sujets or fèves but which can be consumed for breakfast with coffee. As they are very tasty brioches, they go well with coffee.
Of course, as soon as January is over, it is time to think of pancakes for the Chandeleur (Candlemas) and Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) in February …