Walk into any bakery in France at this time of year and you’ll see rows of flat cakes with little paper crowns on top lining the counters. These are the famous galettes des rois, which are traditionally eaten around Epiphany all over France. The galettes are made of puff pastry, filled with frangipane and they all contain a feve, a small trinket, most often made of porcelain, but in the old days it would have been a dried bean. The person who finds the trinket or bean in his piece of cake is king or queen for the day. Wikipedia has a good article about this tradition here, for those of you who’d like to read a little more. Of course this being the South of France, there is another traditional Epiphany cake: ring-shaped and made of brioche dough with candied fruit, glazed and sprinkled with decorating sugar. It’s lighter than the frangipane version and of course it also contains a trinket, AND you get the paper crown with it too!
I decided to make my own galette des rois this year, and thought I would share the recipe with you. I used ready rolled puff pastry (two sheets), but if you like to (and have the time) you can of course make your own. A 10″ dinner plate was my guide for the rounds, one for the base, one for the top. Keep the trimmings, you can re-roll them and make cheese straws or such with them.
For the almond cream I used a recipe found in my old Constance Spry Cookery Book:
3 1/2 oz blanched almonds
3 1/2 oz caster sugar
1 1/4 oz butter (good weight)
2 egg yolks
vanilla or a liqueur glass of orange flower water or rum (you could also add some almond essence)
To blanch the almonds put them in a pan and cover with water, bring to the boil and leave to stand for a couple of minutes. Drain and refresh under the cold tap, then slip off the skins and leave the almonds to dry.
Once dry grind the almonds finely. Cream the butter with the sugar, add the yolks and beat well, then add the almonds and flavouring of your choice.
You’ll need some egg wash to assemble the cake – beat an egg yolk with a tablespoon of milk and a pinch of salt. Spread the almond paste evenly to within 3/4″ of the edge of your puff pastry disk.
Brush the edge with egg wash.
And don’t forget to put the bean into the almond paste! I put it towards the edge to minimise the chance of cutting it when dividing the cake.
Then the top goes on – I scalloped the edges using my fingers and the back of a knife.
With the back of a knife you trace a pattern – the traditional pattern is a wheel, with the spokes radiating out from the centre. I always curve my spokes, but decorate it any way you like, allow your fantasy full reign!
And then you brush the top with some more egg wash. Careful around the edges, it shouldn’t run down the sides as it’ll stop the puff pastry from rising. For a deep and extra glossy finish you can put the cake in the fridge and leave the egg wash to dry a little, then go over it again lightly.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 centigrade for 20 – 30 minutes. Start watching the cake after 25 minutes, and don’t hesitate to leave it a little longer if you think it needs it. Leave to cool on a wire rack and serve lukewarm. You’ll have to make your own paper crown, or save one from a Christmas cracker? What do you drink with it, I hear you ask? Anything you like, a glass of champagne or sparkling wine, cider, white wine or a cup of tea will all go well with it. This size cake will give you eight servings. If you think that sounds a bit mean: I’m usually pretty greedy when it comes to desserts, but an eighth of this cake is just about enough for me; the filling is pretty rich!
Just as an aside – I had some pecans and maple sirup so decided to make another batch of frangipane replacing the almonds and sugar with that. I’ll be baking it tonight – fingers crossed!!
ADDENDUM Here is a picture of the pecan and maple frangipane galette. Not in the traditional round shape, but very delicious!