Now, we all know what an epiphany is… but not many of us today still think about the Epiphany–the day the three wise men (or magi or, to make this dessert make sense, kings) reached baby Jesus and realized that he truly was the King they’d been hoping for.
To acknowledge that traveling across deserts is hard & time-consuming, the church puts some time between Christmas & the arrival of the wise men. The feast day is celebrated on January 6th. And in my opinion, no one celebrates Epiphany better than the French.
Whether you’re Christian or not, this galette des rois, or kings’ cake , is a treat you’ll want to feast on. From the beginning of January, these flaky tarts fill the windows of every pastry shop. Posters in the door advertise the tiny prizes inside each tart, urging you to collect the whole series. (As if I needed another reason to eat multiple galettes.)
For some reason, Christmas time makes us miss France more than any other time of year. Maybe it’s the beauty of 15th to 19th century architecture under a thin layer of snow, or the coziness of expats sharing holidays in shabby apartments, or the unparalleled happiness of knowing it was our first Christmas as the Betz family.
To savor some of our favorite memories, I decided to make a galette des rois.
Like the King Cakes of Mardi Gras, each cake hides a small fève: a baby Jesus, a trinket, a tiny collectible figurine. The fève, which prior to the Revolution was a dried (fava) bean, is said to bring good luck. Whoever finds the fève in their slice is king for the evening.
But winning the fève isn’t straight forward: Fortune for the coming year is delivered by the youngest in the crowd. As everyone gathers to share the cake, the youngest child hides under the table and decides who gets each slice of cake.
Now, enough French history. Let’s get down to business.
I was initially set on making my puff pastry from scratch: It’s a skill I’m dying to improve on, and this seemed like a great time. The end of Christmas vacation with nothing (much) more important to be working on. But I started reading a couple of good books, and my leisure reading time is about to disappear. Plus, I’ll be honest. January is a really stressful month for two college-debt-ridden people getting paid on an academic calendar. Puff pastry from scratch is more expensive in both time & dollars. So, I grabbed a pack of puff pastry, making this the simplest dessert ever.
If you want to make puff pastry from scratch, you can follow the process from my adventures making pain au chocolat, or you can check out this shortcut to puff pastry. I haven’t tried it, but it definitely peaked my interest.
This recipe was given to Joe by one of the teachers he worked with, after he won the fève at a school Epiphany celebration. We used that same fève in this galettes des rois, a small ceramic penguin.
- 2 sheets of puff pastry
- 1 cup almond meal (or you can blanch, skin & grind them up finely yourself–not quite as awful as it sounds)
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 stick butter, mostly melted
- 1 room-temperature egg, lightly beaten
- 1 room-temperature egg yolk
- your fève
- Preheat oven to 450 F.
- Make sure your puff pastry sheets are room temperature. Flatten them, then place a large dinner plate on each sheet. Trace the place with a knife, so that you have two circles of puff pastry. Place one sheet on a piece of parchment, then on a cookie sheet.
- Combine the butter & sugar until well incorporated. Add the whole egg & almond meal. Mix well.
- Pour the frangipane (the almond mixture) onto your first circle of puff pastry, on the cookie sheet. Spread out the frangipane, leaving about an inch of puff pastry around the edges.
- Don’t forget your fève! Hide him in your filling.
- Top with the second sheet of puff pastry. Fold the edged in to seal the pastry sheets together. The folded doesn’t have to be fancy–it will puff in the oven & look gorgeous.
- Brush the egg yolk over the pastry, to ensure it gets a golden finish in the oven.
- With your knife, make several slices in the pastry to allow for ventilation. Many galettes des rois have swirly or geometric designs lightly drawn into the top. You could use your knife tip to gently draw these as well–be sure not to cut through the pastry, though. (Click here to see some designs.)
- Bake at 450 F for 10 minutes, then drop the temperature to 350 and cook for an additional 20 minutes.
- Allow to cool before cutting & serving. Enjoy at room temperature.