Galette des Rois (Cake of Kings) History and Recipe
Who loves eating cake? Marie Antoniette is famously synonymous with cakes, sweets and enjoying her life. I think cakes and sweets allude to luxury and a good life and it is something that most of us can create and enjoy. Cakes are the traditional celebration food with many commemerative occasions and celebrations having their own style of cake.
The Galette des Rois (Cake of the Kings) is such a cake. This puff pastry almond cake is traditionally shared at Epiphany on the 6th of January each year. It celebrates the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem when baby Jesus was presented to them and they gave him their precious gifts. There is however a “season” of Galette des Rois, which begins on the Twelfth Night and ends of Shrove Tuesday.
Cakes are crown shaped and made of puff pastry layers filled with frangipane, a cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs and sugar. A small bean known as a fève, coin or porcelaine charm is hidden inside and the one who finds the fève or figurine is crowned king for the day and chooses their queen. The king must wear the crown for the day.
Following tradition, the pastry or cake is cut into as many portions as there are guests, plus one. This extra piece is called the “part du pauvre” or poor man’s share. This is saved for the first poor person who stops by the house. I think this is a lovely idea and a great principle of charity to teach children at this time of celebration and plenty.
Tradition also dictates how the cake is served, the youngest child is asked to go under the table while an adult cuts the galette into the number of serves required. As each slice is placed on a plate, the youngest child calls out from under the table who gets which slice.
In the 18th century, the fève was a porcelain figurine representing the nativity and characters from the crib however now there is a wider range of figurines used. Older fèves are now sought after and collected. Do you collect anything special? I have recently purchased a collection of french fèves from Etsy as my search locally and nationally was quite unsuccessful!! Unfortunatley for this reason we won’t have a cake today with figurine, but will enjoy one next week instead when my fèves have arrived from France. The Three Wise Men will be a bit late this year! The options for purchasing cakes in France during the ‘season’ are numerous with many famous chefs even creating special flavours or decorations for each year but when in Australia I make my own and this year we are holding out till our vintage figurines arrive so that we can experience the whole effect. I must say this is showing considerable patience, which is not my strong point… I am definately growing older!
Here is a recipe Jane Webster shares in her book At My French Table if you want to make one for yourself also.
Galette des Rois Recipe
1/4 cup almond paste (sold as marzipan)
1/4 cup caster (superfine) sugar
60g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup plain (all purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
2 frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
1 fève (tiny china figurine)
icing sugar, for dusting
Purée almond paste, sugar, butter and salt in a food processor until smooth. Add 1 of the eggs and vanilla and almond extract and continue processing until incorporated. Add flour and pulse to mix it in. Set aside.
Invert a 22cm pie plate onto one of the thawed pastry sheets and cut out a pastry round the size of the pie plate with the tip of a paring knife. Dust flour over base of the round and place it on a baking paper-lined tray. Chill in the refrigerator. Repeat with second sheet of puff pastry, then place on a lightly floured bench.
Beat remaining egg and brush some of it on top of second pastry round. Score decoratively all over the top, using the tip of a paring knife, but taking care not to cut all the way through, then make several small slits all the way through the pastry to create steam vents.
Place an oven rack in the bottom third of the oven, then preheat to 180ºC (350ºF).
Remove first pastry round from the refrigerator and brush some of the beaten egg in a 2cm border around the edge. Mound the almond cream mixture in the centre, spreading slightly. Bury the fève or your figurine in the almond cream. Place the second pastry round on top and press the edges together.
Bake the galette for 13-15 minutes or until puffed and golden. Remove from oven and dust with icing sugar.
Place oven rack in the upper third of the oven and return galette to cook for another 12-15 minutes or until the edge is a deep golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly.
I think this dessert is too delicious to eat only once a year, in fact my mouth is watering right now, but I leave it to you whether tradition needs to be strictly adhered to or not. Grab your own copy of At my French Table below (affiliate disclosure in footer) and enjoy traditional French meals at home.
To all my cake bakers and Kings for the day… I hope you have enjoyed another snippet of French life and I’ll see you next time Annette xx
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