The Galette des Rois is a sort of “Proust’s madeleine” for me: a bite floods my mind with pleasant childhood memories.
Growing up in France, there would always be multiple occasions to eat the delicious marzipan cake called Galette des Rois. I’ve read that it is meant to be eaten on January 6th or the first Sunday of January (unless of course that first Sunday happens to be January first when everyone is still recovering from a marvelous New Year’s party). I believe in England January 6th is called “Twelfth Night,” a celebration of the story of the three kings who were said to bring gifts to the baby who came to be known as Jesus Christ. These days, in France, the “King’s Day” cake which we call “Galette des Rois” can be purchased in pastry shops throughout the month of January. I don’t think many French people know about the religious aspect of the cake these days -I didn’t. As a child, I remember eating it at both my grandmother’s houses, at my aunt’s house, at school where religious demonstrations of any kind are strictly forbidden… and just about anywhere we were invited for dinner or coffee during the month. I regret that we can’t really buy an authentic one where we live in the States.
Throughout my years abroad I’ve enjoyed a wide range of these cakes from a very authentic Galette des Rois with friends in San Francisco to a clever and simple homemade version made by French friends living in Louisiana. The best ones I’ve ever tasted abroad were in Tokyo where they have the most extraordinary French-style bakery/ pastry shops. The biggest surprise was the New Orlean’s style “King’s Day Cake” which I discovered is an entirely different cake: a sort of American-style coffee cake with a yellow-green-purple icing and a tiny plastic naked baby hidden inside that is eaten for Mardi Gras.
The French-style Galette des Rois are usually a pricy extravagance outside France. When I see my wife, Lisa, making it from scratch with my two young sons, I can understand why it is so expensive: making the puff pastry dough is fairly elaborate and time consuming -otherwise the recipe is very simple. I’ve given two recipes’ below: the easy Girard version from Louisiana which will produce good results for even the least experienced chef and Lisa’s elaborate version for the experienced and ambitious cooks with a lot of time and energy. I love Lisa’s –it is definitely worth waiting for and I highly recommend it to anyone who can find someone who is willing to make it for them! 😉
Each recipe includes instructions to insert a “feve” which might be a bean or a tiny porcelain figure. Feves are a kind of broad bean eaten in the South of France but the word has become a popular term for the charm hidden in this cake. The lucky person who is served the slice containing the “feve” is the king of the day and gets to wear a gold paper crown. In some families the king will choose a “queen” who also wears a crown. The person who cuts the cake often inadvertently discovers the hard “feve” with the blade of the knife, so to make things fair the slices are distributed by a blind dealer. The dealer is the youngest child of the family who hides under the table (so they cannot see the slices) and calls out the names of those seated at the table as the cake is served to determine how they are distributed. Everyone wants to be the lucky one who will find the “feve” and be crowned!
Quick & Easy Girard Galette des Rois
Take one sheet of Pillsbury puff pastry dough out of a box (found in the freezer section of most grocers) and place on a floured surface. In the center of the dough spread a mound of almond paste from a can (found in the Mexican food section of our grocery store) or from a tube (found in the cake & baking section of our grocer) or use frangipane crème mix or frangipane found in a specialty grocery store or a place like World Market. Cover with the second sheet of pastry dough and seal the edges by cutting a kind of scalloped edge around the circular mound using the edge of a spoon. Glaze with egg white. Gently make a design on the top for elegance. Bake in the oven at 425F until golden (about half an hour). When the cake has cooled, gently lift one side and insert the feve from the bottom.
Homemade Galette des Rois recipe from Sojourner Tours owner Lisa
WARNING: This recipe takes an entire day to make.
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Cut a rectangle of pastry dough in half. Refrigerate half. Roll out 1/2 a pastry dough recipe (see recipe below) into a sheet large enough to hold a plate. Using the plate as a stencil cut a circle. Place in fridge and repeat with the other half. Place the circle on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Place the chilled almond crème (see recipe below -under the Puff Pastry recipe) in a mound in the center of the circle of pastry dough. Paint egg white around the almond cream to seal the bottom sheet of dough to the top sheet. Cover with the second circle of pastry dough. Using the edge of a spoon scallop the edges. Gently lift the galette and insert a specially made porcelain feve or a bean (this can also be done later when the cake is removed from the oven). Gently cut a sunray pattern on the top.
Chill for 15-20 minutes
Make a sugar glaze by melting 2 TBS of sugar in 2 TBS of water then bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.
Bake the cake 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350F and cook 20-30 more minutes (until golden brown). While the gallette is still hot from the oven, brush the top with the sugar syrup.
In France it is eaten at room temperature but it is also good warm. Bon Appetite!
2 cups all-purpose flour
2-3 drops lemon juice
3 TBS unsalted melted butter
& 1/3 cup chilled unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
*Lisa recommends tripling or quadrupling this recipe and keeping the extra dough sheets in the freezer. (Check online to see how long they can be safely kept. We keep ours 3-4 days in the fridge and up to 3 months in the freezer).
1) Lisa says you must work in a cool room or the butter will melt while you are rolling it and you won’t have lots of thin leaves of dough that puff apart during cooking. She learned this when trying to make puff pastry when we lived in Santa Barabara California where the temperature is usually in the 60s and seems perfect all year… until the day you try to make puff pastry dough. So, the first step is turning down the thermostat. When the room is cool enough, work directly on a cool counter top as if making pasta. Sift the dry ingredients into a mound, make a well in the middle in which you pour the water, melted butter and lemon juice (the acid keeps the dough from turning a greyish color because it will be some time before you bake it). Mix together with your fingertips and/or a pastry scraper but DO NOT OVERWORK THE DOUGH. Stop when the dough resembles bread crumbs and knead very lightly JUST UNTIL THE DOUGH BECOMES A SMOOTH DOUGH (you may need to add just a bit more water -the dough should not be sticky).
2) Chill the ball of dough wrapped in plastic wrap for an hour.
3) Place the 1/3 cup of butter between two sheets of parchment paper and whack it gently with a rolling pin until it forms a square about 3/4 of an inch thick. Chill.
4) On a floured surface, unwrap the dough and cut an “X” on the top. You are going to leave a mound in the center of the dough and roll out four wings extending out on both sides of each line of the “X”. It will look vaguely like a four leaf clover or quatrefoil with a mounded center.
5) Take the butter directly from the fridge and place it on the central mound of dough. Fold each of the four clover leaves up flat over the butter to cover it. Roll over the top and bottom of the dough to seal the edges.
6) Roll it out into a rectangle roughly 5 x 15 inches.
7) Fold the rectangle into a 5 x 5 inch square by folding the long side in thirds (don’t move the dough: fold the top down over the middle and then the bottom over that). Write down somewhere that you’ve done this once (by the end of the process you’ll have trouble remembering how many times you’ve done this. The best may be to make a gentle knife mark on the dough so that you also remember which side is down.)
8) Wrap and chill for half an hour.
9) Remove the dough from the fridge. Un wrap and turn the dough a quarter turn. Roll into a 5 x 15 inch rectangle, fold into a 5 x 5 inch square as in step 7. Mark with 2 lines to indicate that this is the second time you’ve repeated the process, add an additional line for each time you repeat this step.
10) Repeat steps 8 & 9 three more times (for a total of five times).
11) Chill 30 minutes before using.
ALMOND CREME FILLING
1/4 cup ground blanched almonds
3 TBS sugar
3 TBS unsalted butter
2 tsp all purpose flour
2 TBS golden rum (optional)
Mix everything together. Chill 1/2 hour.