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What is la galette des rois? Celebrate Epiphany the French way

The festive season is over, but in France the festivities continue! On January 6, we celebrate another Catholic holiday: Epiphany. Traditionally, we eat (yes, we still eat!) a galette des rois, a traditional puff pastry specialty in which we hide a little porcelain figurine. It's very funny, but above all very good 🤤 In this article, I explain the origin of the galette and give you my easy recipe!


l'Épiphanie et la visite des rois mages


What is Epiphany?


Epiphany is celebrated on January 6. It's a Catholic feast commemorating the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus, twelve days after his birth. That's why it's also known as "the day of kings" ("le jour des rois"). Today, it's best known for being the day on which the galette des rois is shared with family and friends. The majority of French people follow this tradition (out of greed), even non-believers. You don't have to be Catholic to eat the galette des rois!


La galette des rois


Epiphany is the traditional day for getting together and sharing a galette des rois. However, this tradition has its origins in a pagan feast, dating back to Roman times: on the day of the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year), the Romans ate a round, golden cake, symbolizing the sun. The tradition has only been associated with Epiphany since the 19th century.


But what is la galette des rois? It's a kind of round tart. It's made from 2 puff pastries traditionally filled with almond cream (frangipane) or apple sauce (compote de pommes). A small porcelain figurine, called the "fève", is hidden inside the galette. Each person around the table is given a slice of the galette, and the person who finds the fève in his or her slice is crowned king! In bakeries and supermarkets alike, the galette des rois is often sold with a paper crown.


Galette des rois
Galette des rois fait maison


The story of the fève


Traditionally, the person who finds the bean becomes the king or queen, but also has to pay for the following year's galette! Originally, the beans were legumes ("real" beans), but legend has it that many people preferred to swallow them rather than offer the galette! This is how porcelain fèves were introduced in the mid-18th century. At first, they were just little figurines representing Jesus, then the Phrygian bonnet* (the typical hat of the French Revolution). Today, all types of fèves can be found: characters from films or cartoons, objects, animals... Some people even collect them. We call them "fabophiles"! 🤓



What is la galette des rois

The "gâteau des rois" in the South of France


In the South of France, you can find a different version: gâteau des rois. This is a crown-shaped brioche topped with candied fruit. It's very similar to the Portuguese bolo rei and the Spanish roscón del reyes.


le gâteau des rois avec une couronne et les rois mages


The recipe for the galette des rois


You can buy puff pastry, but if you've got a bit of time on your hands, I'd recommend making it yourself - it's so much better! You can find the recipe for easy puff pastry on my cooking blog.


Next, you'll need to prepare a frangipane, which is a mixture of crème pâtissière and almond cream.


Ingredients for a 22 cm diameter galette des rois (6 people):


  • Crème pâtissière :

100g milk

20g egg

20g white sugar

10g white flour


  • Almond cream:

80g soft butter

80g white sugar

80g egg (remaining 1/2 egg + 1 egg)

80g almond powder

8g white flour


  • For egg wash: 1 egg


  • And of course a porcelain figurine (or a bean).


Preparation


1. Prepare the crème pâtissière: start by heating the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla beans and pod. The milk should not boil, just heat.


2. Whisk the egg and sugar in a bowl.


3. Add the flour and mix again.


4. Using a ladle, pour a small amount of hot milk into the mixture to loosen it, then pour it back into the saucepan of hot milk. Heat over low heat, whisking constantly.


5. When the cream has thickened, pour into a bowl and leave to cool.


6. While the custard is cooling, prepare the almond cream: in a bowl, mix the soft butter and sugar to obtain a smooth, creamy texture.


7. Add the flour, almond powder and eggs, and mix again.


8. When the custard has cooled, mix the 2 creams together. You've made franpigane, bravo!


9. Preheat your oven to 180ºC (356ºF). Now it's time to assemble the galette des rois: place a disk of puff pastry on a baking sheet and spread the frangipane over it. Leave a space of about 2 cm around the edges to close the galette.


10. Place the porcelain fève (or the bean) on top of the frangipane, preferably towards the outside of the galette (less likely to find the fève when cutting).


11. Moisten the edge of the puff pastry with your finger or a wet brush.


11. Place the second puff pastry on top of the first and press down with your fingers so that the 2 pastries stick together.


12. Optional: with the blade of a knife, you can make little notches all around the galette to make it look pretty and seal the 2 doughs.


13. In a bowl, beat an egg and spread it over the galette with a brush. Don't put egg on the sides (only on top) as this may prevent the galette from rising during baking.


14. Make a small hole in the center (this allows moisture to escape during baking) and with a knife blade, draw designs on the galette (stripes, leaves, flakes... whatever you like!).


15. Place in the oven for around 40 minutes. The galette is cooked when golden brown. Leave to cool before eating!

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