It’s January and the boulangeries and patisseries here in Albi are full of large round tarts, the famous Galette des Rois, which are traditionally eaten to celebrate Epiphany, the visit of the Three Wise Men. The cake or tart is made of flaky pastry with a filling of frangipane (an almond paste) though you can also buy galettes with chocolate filling and even Nutella. Hidden in the filling is a fève – traditionally, a dried broad bean. In the 19th century, the bean was replaced by a tiny porcelain figurine (now, they are inevitably plastic!). Whoever finds the fève is king or queen for the day and they get to wear a cardboard crown (usually sold with the galette).
I checked out Wikipedia to ensure I had my facts straight, but also found out that often cakes are sold in special bags that can be used to heat the cake in a microwave without ruining the crispness of the pastry.
“So much for French tradition – special bags so that you can heat your galettes in the microwave? “- Judi
I bought a galette from the local supermarket, forking out a little extra for the ‘version gourmande‘ and re-heated it in the oven. Biting into it, the taste was synthetic, too much almond essence, the density of the frangipane was thick and cloying, and the flaky pastry was at the same time dry and faintly rancid. What a disappointment! And then I thought, hang on, traditions can’t be bought in supermarkets – why am I complaining? So I got out the scales and the flour and set to…
Galette des Rois – enough for 6 hungry people. Preparation time approx 45 mins, Cooking time 20-25 mins.
125 grams butter, cut in small cubes
125 grams ground almonds
125 grams caster sugar
1 soup spoon plain white flour
3 drops bitter almond essence (synthetic is perfectly okay)
1 egg, beaten
1 egg yolk, beaten
a slosh of brandy/armagnac – I used Monsieur Gervais’s Eau de Vie de Prune (matured six years in an oak cask) – a gift from a country neighbour.
2 packets of flaky pastry, made with butter. In France you can buy these ready rolled in circles.
a good-quality fig jam. I used home-made Confiture des Figues.
1 dried haricot bean
Heat the oven to 220C
Take the butter, ground almonds, caster sugar, the spoonful of white flour, and place in a food mixer. I use a very ancient Magimix which is still working after nearly twenty years! Blend the ingredients until you have a thick mixture.
In a small bowl, beat one egg and add the three drops of bitter almond essence, the slosh of brandy/Armagnac, then stir before adding to the frangipane mix. Blend all the ingredients one more time.
If you have pre-rolled circles of flaky pastry, fine. If not, roll out your two separate portions of pastry into two large circles about 25cms in diameter and 5mms in thickness. Cover a large metal baking tray with greaseproof paper, place the first layer of pastry on it and then cover it with a good spread of fig jam, leaving about 1.5cms of pastry clear all round the edges. Then cover the jam with a layer of the frangipane mixture and stick a real fève (dried haricot bean) in the frangipane. Brush all round the remaining edge of the pastry with the beaten yolk of the second egg.
Then take the remaining pastry circle and lay it on top. Fold and crimp the edges to seal in the frangipane mix. With a very sharp knife, mark a fine trellis of decorative lines all over the surface – there are lots of local variations as to the pattern. Insert the knife a few times to provide slits for the moisture to escape while baking. Finally, brush the entire surface with the remaining egg yolk and place it in the centre of a hot oven (220 C) for 20 minutes.
Keep an eye on it towards the end – you don’t want the galette to get too well-cooked – it should be very golden but not brown. Large enough to easily serve six people, you can add some vanilla ice cream if you’re feeling gourmand or a dribble of pouring cream if you’re being gourmet.
Cook’s Notes: I’ve made this a few times and having the right jam is critical. If you haven’t got a thick fig jam, don’t substitute an alternative. I tried it with home-made Mirabelle jam (plum jam), and it made the tart too sweet and the frangipane mixture became too liquid. There’s something about the texture and density of the fig jam that works well, but it’s perfectly fine to just have the frangipane filling – just don’t forget the dried haricot bean! Fiona