Crown your “king cake”; the person who
finds the charm gets to wear the crown.
Photo courtesy BainFrance.Blogspot.com.
Bûches de Noël, fruitcake and Christmas cookies are enjoyed throughout the holiday season. In France, the celebratory confections continue into January with an Epiphany cake, or galette des rois, French for kings’ cake (a galette is a flat pastry cake).
In January, the windows of French pastry shops showcase galettes des rois to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany (January 6th).* The cake is enjoyed beginning a few days before Epiphany, and continuing for a few days after. Some families get a new cake every day!
Epiphany Cake/galette des rois is traditionally a puff pastry (pâte à choux) cake filled with frangipane (almond cream). Other fillings can be substituted, from almond paste to chocolate ganache to sliced apples. In the south of France, brioche is often substituted for the puff pastry.
But one thing can’t be substituted: the charm (originally a baby, representing baby Jesus) or other trinket that is hidden inside. It can be anything from a miniature car to a cartoon character (Hello Kitty? Sponge Bob Square Pants?). When we made this cake for a group of adults, we used a key chain featuring a miniature bottle of Champagne.
GETTING THE SLICE WITH THE CHARM
The person who gets the slice with the charm becomes “king” or “queen” for the day and gets to wear the gold paper crown (provided by the bakery or your nearest party store, if you bake your own cake). But it’s an entailed honor: By tradition, the king has to provide next year’s galette. You can forgo that French tradition in favor of making the Epiphany Cake your annual party treat.
Hiding some type of token in food is a pre-Christian tradition, with roots in the Roman feast of Saturnalia.† A dry bean would be hidden in a dish prepared for the household staff. The slave who got that helping would be given the “kingship,” which included drinking, gambling and “general bawdiness.”
In fact, in France the charm/trinket is known as la fève, the French word for bean. Americans have adopted the idea as the Mardi Gras king cake (Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is celebrated from right after Epiphany until Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday).
French chef Héléne Darroze, who commutes each week between the kitchens of the Connaught Hotel in London and her own two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris, recalls celebrating the Epiphany feast as a child. Growing up in southwestern France, “each year there would be a series of family parties and the person who found the token in the cake would buy the charms for the following day’s galette.”
She’s provided this recipe:
HÉLÉNE DARROZE’S EPIPHANY CAKE RECIPE
1 packet shop-bought puff pastry (or homemade puff pastry)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons ground almonds
6 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons crème pâtissiere
(custard thickened with flour)
Zest of one-sixth lemon and one-sixth lime
Paper crown for garnish (to be worn by the “king”)
Héléne Darroze’s epiphany cake is filled with chocolate ganache. Photo courtesy Héléne Darroze.
1. ROLL out the puff pastry to a thickness of 3/4″ (2mm) with a rolling pin and leave it in the fridge for 1 hour. Cut two rounds of pastry (9-10 inches in diameter) and leave in the fridge.
2. MAKE the frangipane: Mix the butter, sugar and almonds with a spatula. Add the egg and crème pâtissière little by little and finish with the zest.
3. PLACE one of the rounds of puff pastry on a pastry tray and brush some egg yolk around the edge. Pipe frangipane into the middle, add the “feve” and cover with the second round of puff pastry. Press the edges a bit and leave in the fridge for an hour.
4. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F (180°C/gas 4). When at temperature, brush the top round with egg yolk. With the back of the knife, make small score lines from the center to the edges in a crescent shape. Repeat all the way around. Pierce with fork tines to vent. Bake for about 40 minutes. Serve warm.
If making puff pastry from scratch, substitute 25% of the flour with cocoa powder. Use chocolate ganache instead of frangipane (be sure the ganache recipe can be heated).
You can use the puff pastry recipe; roll out and shape two rounds 10 inches in diameter.
If the cake is at room temperature, warm it prior to serving.
Bring the cake to the table with the gold paper crown atop; remove the crown prior to slicing.
Cut the cake in as many pieces as there are there participants, so someone is sure to get the piece with the charm.
The person who finds the charm in his/her piece becomes king or queen for the day, and gets to wear the crown. In terms of other privileges: That’s up to you to decide.
Find more of our favorite cake recipes on TheNibble.com.
*Epiphany derives from the ancient Greek theophany, “vision of God,” referring to the revelation of the divine nature of Jesus Christ as told by the Magi. The holiday traditionally falls on January 6th. The night before, the eve of the Epiphany, is called Twelfth Night, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and “a time of merrymaking.”
†Saturnalia, a festival spanning December 17-23, honored Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture.