Trish Deseine's Galettes des Rois
Every year, just when everyone is getting over the excesses of Christmas and New Year, the bakers and patissiers of France assail the population with flat, shiny galettes des Rois – King cakes.
Filled with frangipane and encased in rich puff pastry, it seems impossible that anyone would want to tuck into one so soon after buche de Noel – yule log – and turkey with chestnuts.
It is perhaps the ritual more than the cake that has people hooked, for the cutting and serving of the galette is turned into an elaborate scenario.
The first time I encountered it, I truly believed it was a joke at my expense, unsuspecting foreigner that I was.
The galette was cut into 11 pieces (one more than the number of guests), then I was sent under the table to call out everyone's name and thus impartially decide the order in which everyone got their slice.
This secrecy is necessary because the stakes are high. Inside each galette is a feve – a little charm. First served in Roman times, whoever came across it in his piece of cake was crowned king of the party.
The tradition is still going strong, though galettes are now served at Epiphany and the feves have become little porcelain figurines that are passionately collected by fabophiles.
It has become the customary way for families, companies, town halls and schools to gather and celebrate the New Year all through the month of January.
Bakers and patissiers always include cardboard crowns with the cake, some of which are objects of great beauty and, just as with the buche de Noel, can be designed for famous shops by artists or fashion designers.
Nowadays, the king or queen gets to choose his or her corresponding co-monarch from around the table and wins the honour of inviting everyone for the next galette.
The extra slice is la part du pauvre – the poor man's share – given in the past to those who would beg for food. Now it is given to the greediest guest who wants second helpings.
This is rarely the case in my house, for among my rather competitive children, the lure of the prize and the ensuing coronation is more attractive than the cake.
All eyes are on my knife as I cut up the galette, checking to see if it goes "clink" as it hits something hard, so giving away the mystery.
This cake is served at Epiphany. The kings (rois) in the name refers to the three kings who followed the star to Bethlehem. For the feve to determine who becomes king or queen of your table, you could use a small dried bean, as the Romans did, or the now traditional tiny china figure. Or you could just as easily use a coin. Serves six.
YOU WILL NEED
50g butter, softened
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
50g ground almonds
A few drops of bitter almond extract
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp rum (optional)
1 packet good puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment and set it aside.
The puff pastry should be defrosted but kept in the fridge until the very last minute to make sure that it will rise properly.
In a bowl, mix the butter, 2 eggs, sugar and flour until well combined. Add the ground almonds, mix well, then add the bitter almond extract, the salt and the rum, if you're including it.
Roll out the puff pastry and cut two 22cm rounds. Place one on the baking sheet (leave the other in the fridge for now). Scoop the almond mixture into the centre of the pastry and gently and evenly distribute it across it, leaving a 2cm rim uncovered.
Place the feve anywhere you like on the almond cream, then brush the uncovered rim with beaten egg.
Remove the second puff pastry round from the fridge and gently place on top of the almond cream, aligning the edges so that they sit directly over those of the lower round.
Without pushing the almond cream out, gently bring the edges down to just touch the lower ones, pinching them together.
Brush the remaining beaten egg over the top of the puff pastry to glaze it, then make a small hole in the centre with a knife.
Gently score the pastry to make a criss-cross pattern, being careful not to cut all the way through.
Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden and the pastry has puffed up.
Let it cool completely before you start cutting into it.
From 'Trish's French Kitchen' by Trish Deseine, published by Kyle Books.