Galette des Rois – a French celebration of Epiphany

Adoration of the Magi by Monaco Lorenzo c. 1422. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
Adoration of the Magi by Monaco Lorenzo c. 1422. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

It’s January 6th and the boulangeries and patisseries here in Albi are full of large round tarts, the famous Galette des Rois, which are traditionally eaten on the 6th January to celebrate Epiphany, the visit of the Three Wise Men. The tart is made of buttery flaky pastry with a filling of frangipane (almond paste) though you can also buy galettes with a 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  but 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).

In January 2017, the French apparently bought 3.2 million galettes but it turns out that mass-production has inevitably led to some dubious practices. Last night’s news had a story about French bakers buying ready-made frozen galettes and passing them off as ‘fait maison’. You can also buy them in in special bags that can be used to heat the tart in a microwave without ruining the crispness of the pastry.

“Frangipane seems to me to be the same sort of almond mix we use in Bakewell Tart, whilst almond paste is an uncooked version of marzipan, but with less sugar and more almonds “- Judi

Last week I decided to give the mass-produced version a try so bought a galette from the  local supermarket, forking out a little extra for the ‘version gourmande‘. and re-heated it in the oven. But the taste was synthetic, there was far 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 RoisGalette des Rois – enough for 6 hungry people. Preparation time approx. 45 mins, Cooking time 20-25 mins.
Ingredients
Pastry

2 packets of top-quality flaky pastry, made with butter. I have made my own but it does take time, so the best option is to buy the best you can find and read the small print carefully – it has to be made with butter.

Frangipane Filling

The ingredients below make a classic Frangipane filling but you can vary it by adding some thin slices of apple, small chunks of chocolate – whatever takes your fancy. My variation was to add a dessertspoon of Eau de Vie de Prune (matured six years in an oak cask) – a gift from a country neighbour. You could also use brandy or Armagnac.

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

1 dried haricot bean – or a silver/porcelain charm

Method

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 dessert  spoon of brandy/Armagnac, then stir before adding to the frangipane mix. Blend all the ingredients one more time.

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 cover it with a layer of frangipane, leaving about 1.5cms of pastry clear all round the edges. Hide the fève or charm in the frangipane. Brush all round the remaining edge of the pastry with the beaten yolk of the second egg.

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.

Whoever gets the slice with the charm gets to wear the crown and is king or queen for the night. If it’s the home-made galette then you’ll have to make your own crown or keep one back from the Christmas crackers.

Galette des Rois and coffee
Galette des Rois and coffee

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