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Thursday, June 20
The Indiana Daily Student

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Experiencing an Epiphany

Sitting at the table with my host family for the first time, the mood was beginning to relax. Then suddenly, the youngest daughter of the family got up from her chair and crawled under the tablecloth. I stole a fearful glance at my fellow student abroad, Joey Saporito, wondering if we were expected to duck under the table too. The mother bubbled away in French a bit too quickly for me to grasp what she said, producing a wheel of pastry with a sweet smell: la galette des rois (king’s cake).

Madame cut the cake six ways and called to her daughter under the table, “Celle-ci pour qui?” (“Who’s this one for?”). In no particular order, she indicated to whom each piece of cake should be given, finally returning to her seat with a grin. We began to eat cautiously, careful not to swallow the figurine we were warned resided within the flaky folds of the pastry.

For French Catholics since the Middle Ages, king’s cake has always accompanied the church holiday of Epiphany. This festival falls on January 6th every year and marks the traditional date when Jesus Christ was visited by three wise kings from a far-away land.

King’s cake has found its way into many other cultural celebrations, including the American Mardi Gras, where festivities can hardly be counted as complete without the traditional treat. The desserts are also popular around the time of Epiphany in some American cities where the early settlers were of French extraction.

The first king’s cakes were filled with frangipane, a type of almond filling, but in Normandy the cakes are filled with the regional specialty: apples. Add in the obligatory baked caramel and you’ve got a melt in your mouth “Welcome to Rouen!”

Madame pulled from her mouth a small plastic toy in the shape of a character from the recent film, “Avatar.” Originally a small bean did the job, but now figurines of porcelain or plastic in all shapes and likenesses are used instead. These trinkets remain known as la fève (the bean) in French. Some traditions use a plastic baby or a tiny king, but she said that she had this one just lying around.

Of course, this makes me eager to know what else she throws into her cooking when fancy strikes her.

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