In France, Epiphany is synonymous with the “Galette des Rois”. The French ceremoniously eat this wafer king cake a few days before and after 6 January. As soon as Christmas and New Year, with their abundance of food and bûches, are over, it is time to celebrate the Epiphany with the ‘Galette des Rois’. People queue outside the boulangeries-pâtisseries to get the best galette in town and share it among friends and family to see who will win the crown!
What is a Galette des Rois?
The “Galette des Rois” is a cake made of flaky puff pastry layers and filled with a dense centre of frangipane.
In Provence, the Galette is slightly different and takes the form of a brioche topped with glazed fruit and decorated with coarse sugar crystals. The cake is made with orange blossom, called the ‘Brioche des Rois‘.
A lucky charm (‘une fêve’ ) is hidden inside, and the person who finds it in their piece of the galette wins the crown and is the king or queen for the day. For French children, the galette des Rois is a highlight in January.
Tradition has it that the family’s youngest member goes under the table to distribute the slices to the people sitting around it. The person who finds the lucky charm in their slice of ‘galette’ becomes the king (or queen) of the day and must choose his/her companion.
Buying a Galette des Rois at the Boulangerie
When we lived in the Paris region, we had our favourite bakery: Bauget in Maisons-Laffitte. Unfortunately for us, the bakery closed in 2016, as the owners took a well-deserved retirement.
Like all the boulangeries-pâtisseries in France, Bauget followed the Epiphany tradition by preparing various sizes of ‘Galette des Rois’.
Boulangeries-pâtisseries in France try to outdo each other with their Epiphany galettes and/or brioches. They also sell the cake with a paper crown.
2 round sheets of puff pastry
100g caster sugar
100g good quality unsalted butter
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
100g ground almonds
1 egg yolk
50g icing sugar
1 lucky charm
- Place one sheet of puff pastry on a greased baking sheet.
- Prepare the almond mixture: soften the butter and add the sugar. Beat strongly to obtain a smooth texture. Add the ground almonds, then the 2 eggs and the vanilla extract.
- Place the almond mixture in the centre of the round-shaped pastry and spread it evenly up to 2cm away from the edge. Add the lucky charm near the edge (if you add it near the centre, it might be easily discovered when cutting the cake!).
- Cover the base with the second round-shaped pastry and ensure the two pastry sheets are stuck together. Otherwise, the almond mix may slip away from the cake when cooking. You may use water to join the two sheets along the edges.
- Make an egg wash with the egg yolk and a little water, and using a pastry brush, brush all over the top.
- With a knife, carefully trace decorative shapes (diamonds, flowers or any other creative designs). Make sure you don’t press too hard to avoid piercing the pastry.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C and cook at 180 degrees for about 40 minutes. We advise checking on it regularly as we found our oven cooked it a lot quicker (25 mins).
- Mix the icing sugar with some water to make a liquid sugar syrup and spread it over the galette’s top.
- Cook the galette for 5 minutes at 200 degrees C to allow the sugar to cook slightly and create a shiny effect. Take it out of the oven.
- Eat the cake lukewarmly and enjoy the party!
The French tradition of eating the “Galette des Rois”
Tradition has it that, during Epiphany, the family’s youngest member goes under the table to distribute the slices to the people sitting around it.
The person who finds the lucky charm in their slice of ‘galette’ becomes the king (or queen) of the day and must choose his/her companion. In the past, the flat cake was divided into as many slices as there were people around the table, plus one slice in case a stranger or a poor person were to come to the house. This extra portion was called the slice of God (“la part du bon Dieu”).
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