In the words of Marie-Antoinette “Let them eat cake”. On Monday 6th January many Christians celebrate epiphany which commemorates the first two occasions when the divinity of Jesus was shown. This was when the three kings (also known as the wise men or Magi) visited Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem, and then later As an adult when John the Baptist baptised him in the River Jordan. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches emphasise the visit of the Magi when they celebrate the Epiphany. The Eastern Orthodox churches focus on Jesus’ baptism. In secular Britain it is the end of the Christmas festivities, the twelfth day of Christmas and time to take down the tree and decorations.
Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian feasts and like other Christian celebrations, the church has used the time of an old pagan festival. Nearly 2000 Years before the birth of Christ the Egyptians celebrated the winter solstice around the 6th of January with a tribute to the Aeons or Neteru.
Now we are all aware that the French have not always been kind to their kings and queens but around this time in the 21st century people can be found slicing cake rather than necks.
Fête des Rois
Here in the patisseries on or around the 6th January (the first Sunday in January) you will find a special ’gateaux’ to celebrate the Fête des Rois. This is the French tradition of serving a tart known as the ’galette des rois’ (sometimes ’gateau des rois’) According to tradition, the ‘galette des rois’, was to “draw the kings” to the Epiphany. According to tradition, the cake should be cut into as many slices as there are people around the table, plus 1 extra. This extra slice is called either, the ’part du Bon Dieu’ (God’s slice), the ’part de la Vierge’ (the Virgin Mary’s slice) or the ’part du pauvre’ (poor man’s slice) and should be offered to the first poor person that passes by. A little charm (une fève – originally a bean representing baby Jesus) is baked inside the galette, and whoever receives the fève is crowned king or queen for the day. It is the perfect opportunity to invite family and friends or maybe get together with those neighbours you’ve been dying to get to know!
During the French Revolution, the name was replaced with ‘Gâteau de l’Égalité’ (equality cake), because, as you can imagine, the word ‘king’ did not go down well!
Raymond Blanc’s recipe for a Galette des Rois (King’s Cake) to celebrate La Fête des Rois (Epiphany).
For the pastry:
400g all-butter puff pastry
1 egg yolk for glazing
For the Almond Cream:
75g unsalted butter at room temp
75g icing sugar
75g ground almonds
1 egg yolk
1 dry bean
Roll out the puff pastry and cut out one base of 22cm, and another of 24cm. The base should be about ½cm thick. Wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour.
In a large bowl whisk all ingredients for the almond cream together until mixture is smooth. Refrigerate until the pastry has chilled one hour.
Place the bottom base (the smaller circle) onto a plate. Place the cream mixture in the middle and smooth into an even circle leaving a 4cm gap at the edge. Place your bean somewhere in the almond cream.
Brush some of the beaten egg yolk on that 4cm gap and drape the pastry top onto the almond cream. Press down gently to get rid of air and seal the edges by pressing down.
Chill in fridge one hour.
Place a baking sheet into the oven and heat to 375F.
After it has chilled an hour, remove the galette and trim the edge with a sharp knife.
Crimp the edge if you want. Use a knife or fork.. up to you.
Brush galette with beaten egg yolk.
Gently score a spiral pattern with the blunt side of a knife in the top of the pastry making sure not to go all the way through.
Transfer to your hot baking sheet and bake 45 minutes.
Let rest 5 minutes before serving in slices.