Celebrating Twelfth Night: La galette des rois.
From the age of 16, my part-time job as a student was to work in a French Boulangerie Patisserie. I used to work there every Sunday morning and go back home to my family with a little box of cakes: Baba au Rhum, Eclairs au chocolat, Religieuses au café, St Honoré.... What a treat! Around Christmas time, these were replaced by La Galette des rois. Just as scrummy, I can still remember the almondy and buttery smell coming out of the bakery oven. Galette is actually very easy to make as opposed to 'Gateau des rois' which is a bit more tricky to make. It is a puff pastry pie filled with frangipane that is traditionally eaten on Twelfth Night.
Here is the story behind it. 'The season of the galette des rois begins on Twelfth Night and ends on Shrove Tuesday. Celebrated on 6 January, Epiphany corresponds to the moment when the baby Jesus is presented to the Three Wise Men, Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, who have arrived from the three continents, Asia, Africa and Europe, to give their gifts. Like many Christian festivals, the date of Epiphany corresponds to what was originally a pagan festival. In the past, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, the festival of the winter solstice, at which a king or queen was chosen for one day, by means of a white or black bean hidden in a cake.The galette des rois, in its simple version, is a flaky pastry with notches incised across it and browned in the oven. It is usually served with various preparations: frangipane, fruit, chocolate, cream, etc. The one the French like most is filled with frangipane, a cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs and sugar. It is said to have been invented by a Florentine nobleman, the Marquis of Frangipani, several centuries ago.In the past, the pastry would be cut into as many portions as there were guests, plus one. The last one, called the “part du pauvre” or poor man’s share, was for the first poor person who stopped by the house. In the south of France, the traditional dessert is not a puff pastry but a brioche with fruit, also containing a fève, and known as the gâteau des rois. It is made from a sweet brioche dough flavoured with orange flower essence, shaped into a crown, with pieces of red fruit and sugar on top. They even played “find the king” at the table of Louis XIV. The ladies of the court who found the fève became queens of France for a day and could ask the king to grant them a wish called “grâces et gentillesse”. But the Sun King, Louis XIV, was to abolish this custom.In the 18th century, the fève was a porcelain figurine representing the nativity and characters from the crib. Nowadays there is a wide range of different fèves which are much sought-after by collectors. The family tradition is for everyone to gather together to cut the famous cake. The youngest child goes under the table and points out the guests, who are then given their portion of the cake. A cardboard crown is supplied with the cake. The one who finds the fève is crowned and chooses his or her queen or king.The galette is not the exclusive preserve of the top names. You will find them in every bakery in France. Craftsmen make them with acknowledged skill, to the greatest pleasure of the sweet-toothed.Every year, during the traditional reception at the Elysée Palace, an enormous galette (measuring 1.2 m across for 150 people) is made for the President of the French Republic. But the artisan baker and pastry chef responsible for making it is instructed not to put a fève in the cake because “it would not be appropriate to find a king in the presidential palace of the Republic”.
Here is the recipes.
400g ready-made puff pastry (all butter one is much nicer)
2 rounded tbsp apricot jam
100g softened butter
100g caster sugar
1 lighly beaten egg
100g ground almond
2 tbsp cognac, dark rum or Grand Marnier even!
Heat the oven to 200C/fanC180/gas 6.
Divide the ready-made puff pastry in half, roll out each piece and cut into a 25cm round. Put one round on a baking sheet and spread with the apricot jam to within 2cm of the edges.
Beat together the softened butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg. Stir in the ground almonds and cognac or dark rum.
Spoon the mixture over the jam, spreading it evenly. Brush the edges of the pastry with water, then cover with the second piece, pressing the edges to seal. Mark the top of the pastry from the centre to the edges like the spokes of a wheel or in a zig zag pattern, then brush with beaten egg.
Bake for 25-30 mins until crisp and golden. Serve warm or cold.
Voila! A bientôt.