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King of the cakes: Galette des Rois

By Bake Club

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Calling all you wannabe Kings and Queens! The galette des rois is a cake fit for royalty. It has many names including King’s Cake or Three King’s Cake after the biblical three kings. It is usually associated with the festival of Epiphany, which takes place on the 6th January but is commonly enjoyed throughout Christmas.

The dessert has gone through many transformations. Initially, it is believed to stem back to the Roman era when a special bread was baked to celebrate the winter solstice. Baked within the bread was a small bean. When the bread was served, the person who received the slice with the bean in it was crowned as the King or Queen for the day!

The practice has since been adopted for Epiphany; a celebration that honours the three kings who brought presents to baby Jesus after his birth. Considering that the winter solstice tradition crowned King or Queen after eating the bread, this is a rather fitting appropriation. Over the years the bean has been substituted for many things, typically referred to as a feve. A porcelain figure of baby Jesus is a popular prize but other little items or confectionary can also be baked inside. To foil any sneaky cheaters it is common for the youngest person present to hide under the table and randomly call out guests’ name as the cake is being served, thereby randomly assigning a slice to each guest. Other practices include cutting an extra slice, called the ‘part du pauvre.’ This slice is to be given to the first homeless person who comes to the house.

There are many variations of the galette des rois. Regionally flavours can vary, for example in France a typical favourite is filled with frangipane, but there are two main types of King’s Cake. It is believed that in the 16th century there was a rivalry between bakeries and cake shops, as each wanted full ownership of the cake. Cake shops won but the bakeries decided to make a king’s pie instead, sometimes referred to as the gateaux des rois. The ‘cake’ version is similar to brioche and the ‘pie’ is probably now the most common form of galette des rois, as in our galette des rois recipe. Different countries and regions tend to have their preference, but we say you have to try both to figure it out! Feel free to experiment with decoration as well. Our galette des rois has stripes painted onto it, but you can paint any pattern you wish. See how in our painting pastry technique video.

Because of the tradition of assigning a King or Queen, it is pretty common for galette des rois to be sold with paper crowns so that you can join in the game. If you bake your own version – which we advise because you can have fun choosing the feve to put inside – then you can also make some crowns! It’s a really fun dessert that will get the whole family involved.

What would you put inside your galette des rois? Comment your ideas below! Or share with us your photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.