For most of my life, I assumed the twelfth day of Christmas was on Christmas. I guestimated that somewhere in the middle of December, say the 14th, the countdown began, and the first day of Christmas gave way to exotic birds in fruit filled trees. Surely the progression of a lovers gifts, from small to large birds, jewelry, and then live performances was all building towards a grand finale, on what I could only assume was the grandest day I knew of, December 25.
It wasn’t until this year that I discovered the error of my ways, and it was a cake that taught me this lesson. Galette de Rois, which translates to “kings cake” is a French dessert sliced and served for Epiphany. Epiphany is also known as Twelfth Night, as in the aforementioned nights of Christmas, and is celebrated a dozen days after Christmas, on January 6th. On this day, it is suggested that three wise Magi’s carried precious gifts across desserts to a newborn king, which I suppose is quite grand in the scheme of things. This event marks the final day of the Christ child’s birth celebration, and today it is celebrated with a cake to crown a king.
Galette de Rois, is a round disk of puff pastry, elaborately fluted and filled with rich frangipane. The real treat is not the cake itself, but the “feve” tucked somewhere in side. Should you’re slice contain this token, you ascend to your throne, king for the day, and a paper crown is placed on your head at the dinner-table coronation. Feve translates to “bean”, and at one point it was likely that a dried bean that hid inside the galette. These days the feve is a token, perhaps a coin, but more likely a decorative disk with a figurine embossed on it. They are widely available in places Epiphany is celebrated, like France, and they can be purchased online or from elegant shops catering to home cooks. I imagine any small toy would stand in for a feve (I’ve got my eye on a lego figurine of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster,) and if you’re concerned about inedible choking hazards in your baked goods, a piece of dried fruit or a nut will do.
To make this Galette de Rois, you’ll need puff pastry. I’ve written in length about the mechanics behind it (link), and this is a great excuse to try your hand at the classic technique. Once you’re puff pastry is made, you’ll need to roll it out to ¼ inch thickness, and cut two 9 inch disks. If you have a 9 inch cake pan, use this as a guide. Resist the urge to stamp the puff pastry with the edge of the cake! This will compress the layers at the edge, causing them to stick together. Instead, we want the layers to rise in the oven, all the way to the edge to give the appearance of a books pages.
The filling of Galette de Rois is frangipane, which is made by folding Almond cream with the mother-sauce-like custard called pastry cream, another fundamental technique discussed at length here. (link) To make almond cream, untoasted almonds are ground in a food processor or mill, should you have one, then mixed with soft butter, powdered sugar, and an egg. If you like to play fast and loose with French tradition, you can perfume your almond cream with vanilla beans, the zest of citrus, rose water, or spices, or swap the almond meal for hazelnuts, or other ground nut flour. Once prepared, the almond cream is folded with the pudding-like pastry cream, and the frangipane is spread over the bottom disk of puff pastry. The feve is placed in the frangipane towards the edge, so it’s presence is less likely to interfere with slicing the cake.
With a 2 inch external boarder left uncovered by the frangipane, the dough’s edge is moistened and the second disk is placed over the top, and pressed against the bottom layer of pastry to seal it, like a delicious, cream filled Frisbee. The edge is often fluted, but can be left uncrimped, however scoring an elaborate pattern into the top is mandatory. To do this, egg wash is brushed on the surface of the pastry, and the tip of a paring knife is used to carve a pattern into the top. The knife just needs to scratch the surface, not cut through the entire pastry layer. When the Galette de Rois bakes, the etching in the egg wash will show through, as the coating takes on more color than the exposed pastry.
If you don’t want to wait for the three wise magi’s to arrive with their gifts in tow, New Years is a perfect time to celebrate with this cake, ringing in the new year with a new king! And if you want to make this cake any other time of year, you can omit the feve, and tell everyone you made a Pithivier, which is the same cake without the regal appointment of a domestic monarch and general grandeur of Epiphany.
Galette De Rois
1 paper crown
100g pastry cream
300g almond cream
1 batch puff pastry
20g egg yolk
50g cream or milk
- Begin by preparing the frangipane filling- place the pastry cream and almond cream in a medium sized bowl and use a whisk to fold the two together. Cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent the surface from drying out, and set the frangipane aside.
- Remove 1 block of the puff pastry from the refrigerator, and place it on a counter that has been dusted generously with flour. Begin rolling the dough- this will require some effort, the butter in the dough is rock hard and you’re going to need to put a lot of pressure on it to get it moving. I usually get a little winded rolling out puff pastry. While rolling, flip the dough over periodically- this allows you to dust it with flour before it sticks to the counter, and helps the layers roll out evenly as they are being compressed by the rolling pin, something that helps them rise evenly in the oven.
- Roll the dough out until it reaches a 9 by 9 inch square, and is about ¼ inch thick. Place a 9 inch disk or cake pan over the surface of the dough and cut it out with a sharp knife, making sure to slice through the dough, not press it. Slicing allows the layers to rise in the oven giving you a tall, proud book-page exterior that shows all the layers you hand rolled into your dough.
- Place this disk in the refrigerator and roll the second block of puff pastry out in a similar fashion, creating another 9-inch circle. Place the second disk of puff pastry in the refrigerator with the first, clean your counter, and take a 5-minute breather.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare the egg wash- place the egg yolk and cream in a small bowl and whisk the two together until even. Set this aside with a pastry brush.
- Place a sheet pan on the counter, and line it with a piece of parchment paper. Place one disk of puff pastry in the center of the pan. Transfer the reserved frangipane to the center of the puff pastry, and use a small offset spatula to spread it out into a 7 inch circle, leaving a 1 inch boarder of dough uncovered around it.
- Place your feve somewhere in the frangipane, the closer to the edge you place it, the less likely it is to interfere with a slice. Dip your fingers in water and lightly moisten the dough around the edge of the galette. Place the second disk over the first, matching the two circles up evenly. Press the top disk against the moistened bottom disk around the edges, careful not to disrupt the soft filling.
- The edges can be left straight, but if you’re feeling fancy, you can use a sharp knife to cut a scalloped edge around the galette de rois. You can also crimp it by using your index finger and thumb pressed downward on the edge of the dough, your palm over the galette and your fingertips at the edge of the dough. Leave a 1 inch gap between your digits and use the back of a knife to pull the dough towards the galette between the two, creating a sharp crimp. Continue crimping in this fashion around the entire cake.
- Brush the surface of the galette with egg wash. Use a sharp knife to score the top decoratively. The galette de rois can stay in the refrigerator for 8 hours like this, or in the freezer for 2 weeks. Because of the delicate nature of the puff pastry, if you can’t eat it within a day of preparing it, I recommend freezing it until the day you’re ready to consume, then baking it from frozen.
- When you are ready to bake make sure you oven is preheated to 350 degrees. Cut small ½ inch vents around the outer third of the galette to allow steam to escape during baking, 6 will do, then place the galette in the oven. Bake the galette for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan front to back, and bake for 20 minutes more.
- Remove the galette de rois from the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack. Cool the galette completely before carefully transferring it to a cake plate. Store it at room temperature until you gather your courtesans and prepare for the new king’s reign.