In France, January 6 is "La Fete Des Rois," which translates to "Festival of Kings," also known as Twelfth Night and the Epiphany, when the biblical three kings came to pay homage to the newborn Jesus. It is celebrated by sharing a "Galette des Rois," or "Kings' Cake," with family and friends throughout the month of January. Just like the song The Twelve Days of Christmas! Galette de Rois is a delicious, flaky pastry made with buttery puff pastry and filled with frangipane (almond cream paste), and includes a hidden "la feve" (originally a dry bean, or "magic bean"), and is sold with a silver or gold paper crown to perch on top. The person who gets the feve in their slice is declared the King or Queen and is allowed wear the paper crown! It is also customary that the youngest child at the table go hide (e.g., under the table) where they can't see the cake. The oldest person then cuts the cake into slices, the child comes back and chooses who will get each slice, just to keep things fair!
Galette des Rois is also known as a Pithivier, named after the town Pithiviers in northern France, where it apparently was created. The distinction between the two is the feve or magic bean. This recipe from Laura Calder, who seldom lets me down, was surprisingly easy and turned out beautiful! Just remember to keep everything as cold as possible. My only comment is that I thought it could be a little sweeter, so next time I will try using store-bought almond paste (sold in cans) instead of the ground almonds. I used the traditional dry bean and I saved a paper crown from our Christmas Crackers. My kids loved their Galette des Rois (they each ate two slices!), and my youngest got a kick out of hiding under the table, in addition to finding the magic bean and getting to wear the crown! It truly is a tradition worth trying!
Galette des Rois (Kings' Cake)
For the tart
2 sheets puff pastry, about 1/4" thick, chilled
1 egg, lightly beaten for sealing the pastry
Sifted icing sugar, for dusting (or a few spoonfuls of apricot jam, heated until runny) (I used apricot jam!)
For the almond cream
1/3 cup/70 g butter, softened
1/2 cup/70 g icing sugar
1/2 cup/70 g ground almonds (or almond paste)
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 magic bean
For the almond cream
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the almonds, then the egg, rum, and vanilla extract. Beat smooth with a fork. Cover and chill until firm, for at least an hour.
For the tart
Lay an 8" round plate on one sheet of cold puff pastry and go around it with a knife.
Do the same for the top round, but then roll this one a little with a rolling pin to make it slightly larger than the bottom round. (I found 8 1/2 " to be about right!)
Lay the smaller round of chilled pastry on a baking sheet. (I lined mine with parchment paper and highly recommend it.) Spread the chilled cream over, leaving a good 1" margin all around the edge. Hide a bean somewhere in the cream. Brush the border with egg wash (one egg white mixed with a smidgen of water).
Lay on the top round of chilled pastry and lightly press the edges to seal. Score the edge all around with the blunt side of a knife to seal.
Make a cross in the center for steam to escape and draw spirals out to the edges for decoration.
Brush with egg wash all over the top, avoiding the edges, so that they'll puff up easily. Chill in the freezer until very firm, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees/230 degrees C. Bake the cake until puffed up high and dark golden in color, about 30 minutes.
Sprinkle with a thin coating of icing sugar and blast under the broiler or melt with a blowtorch. You can also brush with melted apricot jam for a glaze.