Christmas is over. The New Year has just begun. But the celebration’s not yet over. I have the joy of introducing you to one of the coolest annual French traditions you’ve never heard of. It’s a Kings Cake! Où, en français, Galette des Rois.
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A delightful celebration of the 3 Kings arrival to see the Baby Jesus, Kings Cakes are served all over the world from Europe to Latin America. Strangely, even with the massive influence that Europe and Latin America have on the United States King’s Cakes are largely unknown in English speaking communities.
So I’m here to right that wrong and offer you an excuse to bake one more deliciously flaky, wonderfully authentic French pastry with my tried and true Galette des Rois recipe.
My Kings Cake is the traditional recipe from the north of France. The Kings Cake from the south of France is called a Gâteau des Rois and looks more like the Roscas De Reyes from Mexico. I encourage you to go to a Mexican bakery on January 6th next year and get yourself a Rosca De Reyes. They’re pretty amazing too.
A Little History of the Galette des Rois
King’s Cake has been around since the Middle Ages and is part of the 12 days of Christmas which was usually celebrated from about Christmas Eve to about January 5th. Traditionally, King’s Cake season started on January 6th and went until Fat Tuesday, which falls any time between February 3rd and March 9th.
January 6th is a holiday, celebrated mostly by Catholics, called Epiphany commemorating the presentation of Christ to the gentiles in the form of the 3 kings. Also known as 3 Kings Day. It’s the most traditional day on which the Kings Cakes or Galettes are eaten. If you’re interested, you can find out more about the history of Kings Cakes and all the different versions available.
These days you’ll find Kings Cakes in French bakeries starting about mid-December through mid-January. But you don’t need a French bakery. You can easily make your own!
They’re super simple and absolutely delicious and if you bring this baby to a get-together you’ll be overwhelmed by guests asking what it’s called and how they can get one.
Fun French Kings Cake Traditions
One of the most fun parts about Kings Cake is the process around eating it. There’s a prize to be found! Meant to represent Baby Jesus.
Originally the prize was just a fava been that had been baked inside. Fava bean in French is “fève”. The prize is no longer a fava bean but the name “fève” stuck. So no matter the prize, it’s still called a “fève” in France.
But when I was a kid the prize was some kind of a porcelain figurine. There weren’t many when I was young but the options have expanded dramatically. There are now cartoon characters and superheroes in addition to the more traditional Baby Jesus. You can see some in the picture above.
We even had one a few years ago where the prize was the porcelain figure of the roadside box that automatically gives you speeding tickets! Why in the world anybody would consider that a prize still baffles me.
You don’t have to bake the “fève” in, you can add it from the bottom once the galette has cooled.
The tradition in my family was that everybody would get together, and as an adult started to cut the cake the youngest person in attendance would go underneath the table. The adults would then ask the kid underneath the table to choose who would get the next slice. It was a fun, silly way to distribute a cake and it took me years to realize that rather than being a way to guarantee that everyone had a chance at getting the prize it was instead an opportunity for the adults to guarantee that I got the prize nearly every single time.
The prize was not only the little porcelain figure, but also the honor of wearing the golden paper crown that the bakery included with every Galette des Rois.
Sometimes it would even come with 2 crowns, so the king could name a queen or vice versa.
We’ve kept the tradition alive here in the US and have collected several French paper crowns. The good news for those of you who would like to try making a King’s Cake at home is that Burger King offers a perfectly suitable crown for anyone who asks. And as a prize, those little plastic babies would work perfectly.
So go, try my Galette des Rois recipe and bake a delicious Kings cake. Enjoy an authentic French tradition and be part of a celebration that is literally 1,000 years old.
Galette des Rois Recipe
Galette des Rois - French Kings Cake
An authentic flaky puff pastry with almond paste filling.
- 1 or 2 packages store-bought puff pastry sheets thawed if frozen
Frangipane Filling (makes enough for 2 galettes)
- 1 cup unsalted butter soft or melted
- 1 cup almond flour
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 Tbsp water
Thaw your pastry sheets. You will need 4 pastry sheets altogether for the 2 galettes. So buy accordingly. I buy mine at a Middle-Eastern market in rolls of 2.
Preheat oven to 450°
Mix all the ingredients for the Frangipane filling in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until well blended.
Roll out your 4 pastry sheets and cut them in circles. I use a plate as a template.
Spread half of the Frangipane cream on 1 of the pastry circles leaving a good 1-inch border.
Spread some egg yolk wash on the border.
Place the second circle on top matching the edges.
Press all around the edges with a fork making sure to glue the 2 pastry circles together. This step is crucial. If not glued correctly, the filling will ooze out during baking.
With the back of a knife, very lightly carve a design on top of your galette being careful not to go all the way through the puff pastry. The traditional design is a crisscross.
Spread egg wash on top of your galette.
Now make your second galette with the 2 other pastry circles.
Bake your galette in the center of the preheated oven for 15 mins.
Reduce the temperature of the oven to 350 and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
If the edges get too dark, place some aluminum foil over the galette towards the end.
Cool your galettes and insert a plastic baby in each one from the bottom as a prize.
Whoever gets the plastic baby in their piece gets to wear the crown!
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