In January, most bakeries in France will have this in their window: galette des rois, the traditional dessert for Epiphany. This simple tart is easy to make at home, with crisp puff pastry and a delicious almond filling. You'll want to enjoy it more than once a year.
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I've yet to be in France for Epiphany, but I remember it well in Spain. Some friends said it was in many ways bigger than Christmas itself, with street processions, cake and gifts for kids. The parades were certainly fun to watch and kids loved collecting the candies thrown to the crowd.
From what I have heard, it's not necessarily a huge celebration in France, but it has one major tradition: enjoying a galette des rois.
What is epiphany?
Epiphany is 6th January and is said to be the day that the three kings (or magi) visited baby Jesus in Bethlehem. It is the end of the 12 days of Christmas, being 12 days after the 25th December.
While it is not celebrated by all Christians, those places that do celebrate often have a special pastry or cake, such as Roscón de reyes in Spain where the date is called Three Kings Day, and kids may receive small gifts to represent the gifts given by the kings.
This tart is something you'll see in bakery windows up and down the country in France in the run up to Epiphany, and often a little after. It's a tasty treat, but just as important for many kids is the tradition that you add a little charm to the filling (called a 'fève' (bean) as this is what was traditionally used ). Whoever gets the charm gets to be king or queen for the day!
Whether you include the charm or not (and if you do, just take care no one accidentally swallows it), this is an easy and tasty dessert to enjoy any time.
What is galette des rois made from?
French king cake is essentially a tart with puff pastry on top and bottom filled with an almond cream filling. The filling is simply made with butter, sugar, egg and ground almonds.
In bakeries, they often blend pastry cream with the almond cream to make it a little richer, since it's commonly on hand. However at home, you normally make it with just almond cream, though it's common to enhance the flavor with a little cognac or rum and maybe almond or vanilla extract.
The almond cream, 'creme d'amandes', is the same mixture that you might use for frangipane tarts and filling croissants. It's relatively soft, which is why you chill it before using. Don't confuse it with almond paste or marzipan, as you use in German stollen. This is thinner, between the butter and eggs.
Tips for making this tart
This tart is easy to make, but it's worth taking a little bit of time over it. Not hands-on time, that is, but chilling time. Giving this some extra time in the fridge helps to avoid the pastry shrinking as it cooks and the filling leaking.
Make sure you leave space around the filling when you add it on top of the bottom circle of pastry. You need this bit of space to allow you to seal the top and bottom payer of pastry around the filling.
Before you put the top circle of pastry on top, that's when you want to add the the charm to the filling, if using. Press it gently in to the filling, towards the edge if you want to hide it better.
A common trick to help join the top and bottom is to use the back of a knife to make indents in the pastry's edge. You press the knife in while pressing the top and and bottom pieces of pastry together with your fingers. Not only does this help them join, it adds a nice crown-like shaping to the edge.
Once you have joined top and bottom, it's worth chilling the tart before you add any decoration to the top. This makes it a little firmer and less likely you will cut through the pastry to the filling below.
What decoration is on top?
You can score a pattern on the top in pretty much any design you choose. Many I have seen do either a zig-zag line pattern or draw on leaves, as I have here. Feel free to use your imagination.
You can use plain eggwash on top, or you can mix egg with a little milk. Rather than waste another egg, I use just a little from the egg for the filling as there's certainly enough. Whichever you use, they help to give a lovely golden color to the final tart.
Keep an eye on the tart as it cooks so that it has long enough to brown nicely on the top and crisp, but not so long that it burns. Some filling may leak a little if you didn't quite get it sealed up, but don't worry. Chances are you will still have plenty left inside.
This galette des bois, French king cake, is not elaborate or difficult, especially when you follow the above tips. While it is traditional for Epiphany, the flavors and simple style would be perfect any time. Crisp pastry and delicious almond filling - how can you resist?
Try these other almond desserts and treats
- Tarta de Santiago - Spanish almond cake
- Pear frangipane tart with cranberries
- Basler brunsli - Swiss chocolate almond cookies
- Plus get more dessert recipes and French recipes in the archives.
Galette des rois (French king cake)
- 2 sheets puff pastry relatively thin is fine (each sheet is approx 7oz/200g)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 3 ½ oz butter
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 cup almond flour (ground almonds)
- 1 tablespoon brandy (cognac) or rum
- ⅛ teaspoon almond extract
- Use the base of a 9 in/23cm round cake tin as a guide to cut a circle of pastry from each of the pieces of puff pastry. Put each on a piece of parchment on a baking sheet and chill in the fridge.
- Lightly beat the eggs and the remove 1tbsp of the egg to a small bowl. Add the milk and gently mix together. Set aside.
- Beat together the butter and sugar either with a stand mixer or hand mixer (or you can do by hand). The mixture should become relatively glossy. Add the eggs, almond flour, brandy and almond extract. Mix until well combined. Place the bowl with the mixture in the fridge and chill both this and the pastry for around 30 minutes.
- Once chilled, spread the almond filling over the middle of one of the pastry circles (still on the parchment) leaving a rim of around ⅔in/2cm without any filling. Moisten the exposed pastry edge with a little water then place the second piece of pastry on top. Seal the edges together, carefully pressing gently to ensure you don't have air inside.
- Using the back of a knife blade, make indents around the edge of the tart by pressing down with a finger on the two layers of pastry and making indent to side then repeating all the way around. Place the tart in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes, ideally nearer 1 hour.
- Towards end of chilling time, preheat oven to 355F/180C. Brush the top of the tart with the egg-milk mixture all over. Using the tip of a sharp knife, make a pattern/design on the top of the tart such as leaves or zig-zags, taking care not to cut through the pastry.
- Bake the tart for around 30-45 minutes until golden brown and crisp on top. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before slicing (can also serve cool).
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