January 6th is celebrated in Christendom as the day the Three Kings, the Magi, the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem to present the Baby Jesus with three portentous gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Today Three Kings Day (or the Epiphany), is celebrated by its very own cake.
Galette des rois is a winter tradition
According to tradition the Galette des Rois, or King Cake, makes its first appearance on Twelfth Night, or the eve of the Epiphany, and continues to be a party centerpiece through Mardi Gras, when the winter festivities screech to a halt and the weeks of Lenten penance begin.
In France, the cake is called a galette des rois (king cake), but there is not just one kind. In her book French Farmhouse Cooking, Susan Herrmann Loomis explains that in January…
Patisserie and boulangerie shelves fill with galettes, which differ according to geography. In the north of France, the galette is a flat, shiny round of puff pastry usually filled with frangipane, or almond cream. In the south of France, the galette is made of brioche, usually flavored with lemon zest. In Brittany, galettes resemble Breton Cake studded with candied fruit. All contain a fève.
Fèves are tiny porcelain figurines made specially for galettes des rois (king cake); in earlier days a coin or dried bean (fève) was used.
The word fève carried over to the current incarnation that has expanded to include a multitude of imagery, from religious figures to farm animals to celebrities. Some fèves are issued in limited edition and are collected by “fabophiles, ”
The fève of choice is placed in the gâteau or galette either before it’s baked or carefully slipped through a seam in the crust when it is done. The person who finds the hidden fève in their piece of cake is dubbed “king” or “queen” of the feast. (They also must buy next year’s galette!) In some regions in France a child crawls under the table and designates who gets which slice, sight unseen—perhaps the original blind tasting.
How to make your own
The galette des rois is not difficult to make with two sheets of puff pastry and a filling, traditionally frangipane (almond cream),fruits, or even chocolate.
- Roll out two sheets of puff pastry and cut each into a large circle.
- Place one circle on a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet.
- Spoon filling of choice into the center of the circle, leaving a 1-inch border.
- Place the fève on the edge of the filling, next to the border.
- Dampen the border with water or beaten egg.
- Cover with the second pastry circle and pinch edges together, then crimp to form a tight seal. Let it chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
- Before baking, brush the the top with and egg wash. With a sharp knife carve a pattern–such as a hashmark–on the top. The cut should be shallow and not cut through to the filling. Then make 3 or 4 slits so the steam to escape.
8. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 40 to 50 minutes, until the galette is puffed and a golden brown color. Remove from the oven and let cool.
9. Top it with a gold paper crown before serving.
- Frozen puff pastry is available at most supermarkets. Look for a brand that is made with butter rather than oil.
- Fèves can be ordered from Faboland, a French company that specializes in fèves and ships worldwide.
- Gold foil crowns in a variety of shapes can be found on Amazon.
See this recipe for apple galette in French—Google can translate it—and the video below, or this one with almond filling from David Lebovitz,
Where to find galettes des rois to buy
If you would rather buy a French king cake, you may be in luck. The galettes are gaining in popularity outside France as French bakeries open in cities and towns worldwide.
Frenchly.us lists French bakeries in New York and New Jersey. Check their websites as most offer the galettes for only a few weeks in January.
You’ll even find galettes des rois in Tokyo at LaBoutique de Joel Robuchon. Many French-related organizations, like the French Institute/Alliance Francaise, hold Galettes des Rois events in January, although the Covid pandemic has removed them from schedules for now.
Whether you make your own or buy one at a patisserie, a Galette des rois can offer a bit of merriment in an otherwise dreary month. And if you find the fève you’ll become Queen (or King) for the year.
This article has been updated from the original, which was originally posted on January 11, 2018. As an Amazon Associate we receive a commission on any purchases you make through qualifying links on this page.
* * *
New to Blue Hare? You might also like
- Coeur à la Crème: a sweet-heart dessert for your Valentine, any time
- Mary’s Coq au Vin belongs on your table
- Hidden gardens, the perfect croissant, Edith Piaf: Books for exploring Paris by foot and all the senses
Find more articles on the Blue Hare home page.