As I examined the tiny figurines curious to learn their story, the seller exclaimed “la fève, la fève, pour galette des rois”! I thought to myself “beans for cake”? My French leaves much to be desired, so luckily a fellow shopper noticed my confusion and explained in English that these figurines were small charms used in a traditional cake called Galette des Rois or King’s Cake. We were in France at the vintage and antiques market in Aix-en-Provence where the vendor we discovered had hundreds of these darling pieces.
I learned that the cake is often made from puff pastry filled with an almond paste filling (known as frangipane) in northern France and a brioche-style cake in the south of France. It is made for Epiphany, the official end of the 12 days of Christmas on January 6 (did you know the 12 days start on Christmas Day?). Epiphany generally marks the visit made by the Three Kings to Bethlehem to celebrate Jesus’s birth.
The origin of the “la fève” has to do with how the galette is served. In early days, an actual bean or almond was hidden in the frangipane and baked into the galette. Nowadays, porcelain figurines like the ones I had found or other charms are used instead. Generally the server cuts the galette into slices and randomly chooses a recipient. Whoever receives a slice with the fève is declared king (or queen) for a day! How fun is that?! Just be careful when taking a bite or you might just swallow the fève … or break a tooth, yikes! I snatched up a handful of these porcelain charms and vowed to learn how to make the galette myself when back home.
And making it I did… for the first time last year. It was my first time working with puff pastry as well and I realized it was not difficult. This is one of those desserts that looks impressive yet is quite simple to make. I love the tradition of it, so I made it again this year and I hope to for many more to come. I found three recipe sources that I modified referenced to make my own version: 1. New York Times, 2. David Lebovitz, and 3. Spruce Eats.
1 cup almond flour (or meal)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
1 teaspoon rum (optional)
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon flour (all-purpose)
1 package puff pastry (thawed)
1 egg beaten (for wash)
1 almond, bean, or fève (optional)
1. Using a food processor, combine the first eight ingredients to form a paste. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
2. Roll out the sheets of puff pastry and cut out two 10-inch circles. Place one of the circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spoon the almond filling on the puff pastry and spread it to within 1 inch of the edge of the circle. If desired, hide the bean or fève in the almond filling. Place the second pastry circle on top of the almond filling, pressing the edges of the pastry together to seal the cake. Using a sharp knife, score a decorative pattern in the top layer of the pastry, without cutting through to the almond filling. Brush the galette des rois with the beaten egg. Cut six small slits in the top of to allow steam to escape. Chill for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 425 F. When ready, reduce the temperate to 400 F and bake the galette for 30-40 minutes.
4. Allow the cake to cool for 20 minutes on the baking sheet. If desired, top the cake before serving with a paper “crown” (or in this case, an adorable decorative crown!) for the person who finds the fève.
- Make sure to warn anyone eating the galette if you have hidden a fève inside!
- When you are thawing the puff pastry, don’t wait too long as it can be difficult to work with as it warms.
- To make your own almond meal/flour just chop whole raw almonds in the food processor until very fine and then use in the recipe as indicated.
- Patisseries in France take the making of galette des rois to a new level. Google for beautiful versions! They are often available the full month of January.
I hope you try this fun dessert and who knows – maybe you’ll get the fève and be the king or queen or a day. 🙂