Yesterday marked the official ending of the holiday season. Not just because everyone is back to work by now (even students), but because it was the Epiphany. Historically, January 6th is the celebration of the Three Magi’s visit to Bethlehem. But nowadays, for most people, it’s an excuse to eat a very special cake.
La Galette des Rois, or King Cake (though I personally prefer to call it Royal Galette), apparently exists in several versions. The one usually encountered in Belgium and France consists of puff pastry filled with frangipane. But its most distinctive trait is that it contains a fève. “Fève” translates as “broad bean,” but it’s not really a literal designation anymore: nowadays, the fève is usually a small porcelain or ceramic figurine, which is hidden inside the galette. When the cake is divided among the guests, the person who gets the fève becomes King (or Queen), and is allowed to choose a consort.
As far as I remember, being King never really got anyone special privileges, other than that of wearing a nice paper crown, and maybe not having to clear the table. But it’s a fun tradition. Normally, to ensure randomness, the youngest person of the group has to hide under the table and call out people’s names as the pieces of cake are distributed. But when I was little, my mother always cheated and made sure I got the fève. She never made the galette herself, but she would poke around to find the fève and give me the winning piece.
For some reason, it had never occurred to me to make the Royal Galette myself. But just a few days ago, we saw a short news report on galettes, and I was shocked at how… simple it was: a disc of puff pastry, covered with frangipane, and topped with another disc of pastry. “That’s it?!” I exclaimed. “I can totally do that myself!”
And that’s how I wound up baking la Galette des Rois this year.
We needed a fève. Fortunately, we had been served an early galette a few days ago, and Laurent had been crowned King. No shame in recycling the fève, after all. Besides, I have no idea where I could buy one… And I’d be afraid to use just any old figurine, for fear that it wouldn’t be ovenproof!
Even though making puff pastry no longer scares me, ever since that Daring Bakers’ vols-au-vent challenge, I used storebought pastry, out of sheer convenience. For the frangipane, I based myself on the recipe we were given for the Bakewell Tart challenge (gosh, I’ve learnt so much by being with the DBs!). But I wanted to make it a little different, so I added some cocoa and diced canned pear.
Everything went fine, and I was happy with the results: good blend of textures (flaky pastry against moist filling), nice combination of flavours. And yes, it’s a decadent treat, but it’s only supposed to be eaten once a year (or twice, in our case).
So, who took the fève? So far, no one: it was just me and Laurent, and neither of our pieces had the hidden prize. We couldn’t eat the whole thing, so we saved the rest and will try again tonight. Not particularly exciting, since the winner will inevitably choose the other as consort…
But like I said: the Epiphany is an excuse to eat galette!
Cocoa-Pear Royal Galette
500g (17 oz) puff pastry, thawed in the fridge
For the frangipane:
50g (1.75 oz, 1/4 cup) butter, softened
50g (1.75 oz, 1/3 cup) icing sugar
50g (1.75 oz, 1/3 cup) almond powder
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp almond extract
1 tbsp rum (optional)
2 tbsp powdered cocoa
2 small canned pear halves, drained and diced
For assembly and finishing touches:
1 fève, or small ovenproof figurine
1 egg, separated
Preheat oven to 200ºC (400°F).
Prepare the frangipane:
Cream the softened butter with the sugar, until very fluffy and light yellow. Stir in the egg, until well combined. Add the almond extract and the rum, if using.
Gradually stir in the almond powder, then the flour, and finally the cocoa. Set aside.
Assemble the galette:
Divide the pastry in two equal parts. Roll each half into a 25cm (10 inch) disc, about 5mm (1/4 inch) thick.
Put a baking sheet on top of another baking sheet, and line it with parchment paper. Place one disc of pastry in the center of the prepared sheet. Spread the frangipane mixture over it making sure to leave a 1cm (1/2 inch) margin at the edge.
Take the diced pear and pat the pieces dry. Scatter the pear evenly over the frangipane, pressing the pieces slightly into the almond mixture.
Take the fève and press it into the frangipane in a random spot, at an approximately equal distance from the center and the edge of the disc. DO NOT place it at the center.
Take the separated egg and lightly beat the white. With a pastry brush, lightly brush the edge of the pastry with egg white. Place the second disc of pastry on top of the first, and press all around the edge to seal the frangipane in.
Whisk a tablespoon of water into the egg yolk. Lightly brush the top of the galette with this egg wash, being careful not to let it drip down the sides, which would inhibit the pastry from rising.
With the edge of a sharp knife, make decorative patterns on top of the galette.
Bake for 25 minutes. Then lower the oven to 160ºC (350ºF) and bake for another 10 minutes, keeping an eye on the galette to make sure it doesn’t colour too quickly. The pastry should be risen, crispy and golden.
Serve warm, or at room temperature.