Winter in Paris is a warm welcome with tasty dishes and long meals with friends and family, including hearty French dishes to special pastries. I love desserts; one of my favorites is the seasonal Gallette des Rois. It is an almond-pastry that is served in French households in January, to celebrate the coming of the Magi. This type of cake with a surprise inside originated with the ancient Roman mid-winter festival Saturnalia, dedicated to the Roman God of Time, when festivities, orgies, and bacchanals anticipated longer days to come.
This delicious pastry cake is traditionally served from Twelfth Night (January 6th, the date the Three Kings reached Bethlehem) to Carnival. In Paris. The galettes or gateaux (cakes) can be found in all of our favorite pastry shops on rue St. Dominique and Ave de la Bourdonnais.
The light pastry with a rich almond cream, that typically arrives with a cardboard crown around it, comes with a twist. Anyone who finds the “fève” in their slice is crowned king or queen for a day, and wears the paper crown. Although fève translates as bean, today it is a little metal or porcelain figuring that can be a chic lady, an old fashioned looking king or queen, or even an insect. Just make sure to bite down carefully in case the fève is in your piece!
During Saturnalia, a bean was hidden somewhere in the house, even within a loaf of bread, and was sought only by the slaves who were given freedom for the duration of Saturnalia. This festival was transformed by the Catholic Church into a children’s festival throughout Europe, reaching its height in France where the child who found the surprise the in the cake was showered with gifts and dressed in regal costume.
Recipe for Galette des Rois
* 1 pound puff pastry dough
* 5 oz. ground blanched almonds
* 5 oz. (approx. 1 cup) powdered sugar
* 5 oz. softened butter
* 2 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk
* 1 tablespoon dark rum (optional)
* 1 fava bean or small porcelain ornament to hide inside (optional)
For the cream filling: mix together almonds and sugar. Add the creamed butter, two eggs and rum; mix well together.
Divide the puff pastry dough in half: roll out each half into a 12-inch circle. Lay one pastry round sheet on a (very slightly greased) baking pan. Pour the filling in the middle and spread without reaching the edge. Drop your “fève” in the filling, if you wish.
Top carefully with the second circle of dough. Press firmly all around (with moist fingers) to seal the “cake.” Glaze the surface with the remaining beaten egg yolk. (For a little more control over the color, brush the yolk on roughly halfway through the baking – the glaze on our test cake was a little dark.)
With a fork draw some light curved lines for decoration. Make a few tiny cuts on the top (to let out steam during cooking).
Cook for 35 to 40 minutes in preheated 400-degree oven. Oven temperatures can vary; keep an eye on the cake!
Remove when golden. Cool and serve while still warm, or heat up in a warm oven later.