Galette des Rois, a very French tradition
The galette des rois, celebrating Epiphany, the day the Three Kings (les rois) arrived in Bethlehem, is baked throughout January in France. Composed of two circles of puff pastry sandwiching a frangipani filling, each comes with a crown and always has a charm, called a fève, or whole almond, baked into it.
It’s a tradition brought to our family by our resident Frenchy, Hubert, and is an invitation to gather the family, as much party game as pastry – if your slice has the fève, you get the crown (couronne) and the right to be king or queen for the day!
Happily, the galette can be made to fit your schedule. The pastry circles can be cut, covered and refrigerated ahead of time as can the almond filling (it will keep for up to 3 days). And the whole construction can be made early in the day and baked when you’re ready for it. Tuck a charm or whole almond into the filling — warn your guests! — and, if there are children in the house, put them to work crafting a crown.
Tradition dictates that when serving galette des rois, the entire cake should be divided such that each family member or guest receives a slice. During the slicing, the youngest hides underneath the table to call out the name of a person to receive each slice in turn so the server can’t be accused of playing favorites! The person who discovers the fève (charm or almond) in their serving is declared le roi (the king) or la reine (the queen) and gets to wear the golden paper couronne (crown) that comes with cake and, of course, can ask favors of the rest of the family. Kids and adults alike can get surprisingly enthusiastic about the winning of the fève – many people collect them – and don’t be surprised if accusations of cheating occur. It’s part of the fun!
What to enjoy with your galette des rois? A crisp chardonnay will balance the sweetness of the almond frangipani.
FOR THE FILLING:
- 6 Tbs (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¾ cup (85 grams) confectioners’ sugar
- ¾ cup (85 grams) almond flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1Tbs rum (optional)
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2x 9 1/2-inch-diameter circles puff-pastry dough (from a 14- to 17-ounce package; 396-482 grams), cold. Preferably all-butter puff.
- A charm or fève: a porcelain trinket smaller than 1 inch or 1 whole almond (see photo below for examples of charms)
TO MAKE THE FILLING:
- Working with a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy and light. Beat in the almond flour and the salt. Mix in 1 whole egg, then the white from the second egg (reserve the yolk). Mix in the rum, if using, and the vanilla extract. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Mix the remaining yolk with 1 teaspoon cold water; cover, and refrigerate until needed.
- Place one circle of dough on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border bare. Press the charm into the filling. Moisten the border with cold water, position the second circle of dough over the filling and press around the border with your fingertips to seal well. Using the back of a table knife, scallop the edges by pushing into the dough (about 1/4- to 1/2-inch deep) every 1/2 inch or so. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat the oven to 425. Brush a thin layer of the reserved yolk glaze over the top of the galette, avoiding the border (if glaze drips down the rim, the galette won’t rise). With the point of a paring knife, etch a design into the top of the galette, taking care not to pierce the dough. Cut 6 small slits in the top as steam vents.
- Turn the heat down to 400, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the galette is puffed and deeply golden. Check after 20 minutes, and tent loosely with foil if it’s browning too much or too fast. Transfer to a rack, and cool for at least 15 minutes (the galette may deflate — that’s puff pastry for you). Serve warm or at room temperature