January 6 has two meanings: one religious, the other pagan. The nun is called Epiphany and recalls the adoration of Jesus by the Magi, at least in the Catholic religion. As for the pagan, it symbolizes sharing and would recall the Roman Saturnalia feast during which a slave could be elected prince of the day.
If the religious festival has remained in the liturgical calendar, both in France and in the colony, the same cannot be said of the galette or the cake. From the Middle Ages, the sharing of the galette is well established in France; it is then subdivided into as many parts as there are guests, plus one which is called the part of the poor and which ends up in the bowl of the first poor person to present himself. However, we can say without a shadow of a doubt that the galette or the cake was not part of the luggage of the first settlers to settle on the shores of the St. Lawrence, because no testimony emerges.
The cake of the Kings in Quebec
In our cookbooks, there is no pancake recipe; that of a cake of the Kings only appears for the first time in Les directions divers... by Mère Caron published in 1878. Subsequently, the same recipe reappears in the reprinting of The Canadian cook by the publishers of La Patrie circa 1910. These are the only two examples listed in our culinary literature. Neither La cuisine raisonnée nor Jéhane Benoît’s Encyclopédie de la cuisine offers recipes for cakes or galettes des Rois.
And yet the illustrator Edmond-Joseph Massicotte gives us an engraving entitled The traditional cake of the Kings. Dated 1926, this illustration seems to denote a fairly recent discovery – at best since the printing of Mother Caron's book – and which fell into oblivion in the collective memory following the Great Depression of 1929, an oblivion which would continue until to the recent past.
This erasure of the galette is also probably explained by the composition of the dish. The Galette des Rois is a puff pastry filled with frangipane, an almond-based cream. This preparation is found in the north of the Loire while the King's cake is a brioche preparation, flavored with orange blossom water, with or without candied fruit, which is found in the south, in the country of ancient language of oc with a breakthrough in the region of Poitou and Charente.
Engraving and recipe bring us closer to the cake version described above, but with variations: farewell to the scent of orange blossom, hello to white wine and, instead of candied fruit, currants. Ground almonds are optional, while ammonia replaces Mother Caron's deer horn!
THE RECIPE IN 1910
“Take half a pound of flour, half a pound of sugar, beat this with half a pound of fresh butter, until the mixture becomes like crumbled bread; add a spoonful of white wine, five eggs beaten separately, four ounces of Corinth, mix everything well together.
You can also add crushed almonds and a teaspoon of ammonia*.
Grease the molds and bake. »
*Ammonia is the ancestor of baking powder.
The Canadian cook, Éditions La Patrie, ca. 1910