It’s the 5th of January, the last day of the Christmas season. It has been Twelve Days since Christmas Eve when we celebrated the birth of the baby Jesus. Now we celebrate the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem to give gifts to the Newborn King, as told in Matthew 2.
Over the years my family has celebrated Twelfth Night and Epiphany (January 6) in a variety of ways. Our celebration has adapted to the size and age of our family, the day of the week the holiday falls on and the parts of the tradition that seem most meaningful to us that year.
When my children were small the focus seemed to be on the gifts of the season. They set out special bags on Twelfth Night where they would find small gifts in the morning from the three kings, left as they passed on their journey. We also sang seasonal songs about gifts; “We Three Kings…” and "The Twelve Days of Christmas", as we gathered the kings and their camels from around the house, where they had been wandering since we put out our nativity set during Advent, and placed them near the manger where the baby Jesus lay.
In time our focus on Twelfth Night seemed to shift from gifting to celebrating. We set a pretty table with Christmas Crackers (those pretty tube shaped favors with a “snap” and a surprise inside) at each place and shared a favorite family dinner with a King Cake for dessert. The King Cake always has a “baby” inside, often represented by a whole nut or piece of chocolate. I have posted several recipes for King Cake over the years.
There are many types of Twelfth Night Cakes served in different parts of the world. Most often my family has enjoyed a New Orleans style King Cake, made like a filled coffee cake of braided yeast bread drizzled with icing and sprinkled with colored sugar. One year I made a Twelfth Night Cake from a recipe for Eggnog Pound Cake in a elegant bundt pan. When rushed we simply bake a Cinnamon Coffee Cake, a quick family specialty with one whole pecan stirred in. Whoever is served the slice containing the “baby” wins a small gift, often a star shaped ornament or other trinket.
King Cake, French Style
This year I wanted to try another King Cake I have read about, a Galette des Rois, a French version of the cake. It is fairly simple to prepare using frozen puff pastry and an almond filling with a single whole almond in the cream for the “baby”. Traditionally these cakes are topped with a paper crown but since I couldn’t find one I topped mine with a circlet of wide gold ribbon left from the holiday wrapping. I cut points in the top and stapled the ends together for a simple shiny crown.
The Galette des Rois was pretty and delicious. It was rich and buttery but the filling was only lightly sweet, a good thing in my opinion. That sweetness is easily adjusted by the amount of powdered sugar sprinkled on top or, if you prefer, by adding up to an additional ¼ cup of sugar to the filling.
Is it too late to make this cake for Twelfth Night? Don’t despair. It is perfectly appropriate to enjoy a King Cake throughout the month of January and all the way through Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. That gives you plenty of time to taste and share this appealing recipe.
Galette des Rois
½ cup (1 stick) butter
½ cup ground almonds (I used almond meal from TJ's)
¼ cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry
1 whole shelled almond (or other “baby”)
In a medium bowl, beat the butter until soft and smooth. Add the ground almonds and sugar, mixing until well combined. Reserve about 1 Tablespoon of the beaten eggs in a small cup. Add the rest to the almond mixture and continue beating until smooth. Cover and set the mixture in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Thaw the frozen puff pastry in the refrigerator, according to package directions. When ready, unfold one sheet of puff pastry and cut an 8” – 9” circle from the center using a round plate, bowl or pan as a template. (I used a 9–inch tart pan for my template. It worked just like a big cookie cutter and even had a decorative fluted edge.) Place this circle of dough on a baking stone or greased cookie sheet.
Take the almond mixture from the refrigerator and spread it evenly in the center of the puff pastry circle to within about 1-inch of the edge.
Place the almond or “baby” somewhere near the edge of the almond cream.
Using the reserved beaten egg, lightly brush the top edge of the pastry with the egg, being careful not to go over the edge.
Cut another circle from the second sheet of puff pastry using the same method. Place this circle over the top of the almond filling gently, matching the edges. Smooth the pastry lightly from the center to the edges and press the edges together firmly using a fork to seal the edges tightly. (For an idea of what happens when you don't, read on.)
Using a knife, gently score a design into the top of the pastry, being very careful not to cut all of the way through. (I used a simple diamond criss-cross design. Had a looked at some of the links above first, I might have tried for a more intricate effect.)
Brush the remaining egg over the top of the puff pastry, avoiding the edge with the fork marks.
At this point the galette can be placed in the refrigerator until ready to bake. (I opted to go ahead and bake mine.)
When ready, place the Galette des Rois in the center of the oven, preheated to 375F.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
This is what happens when, despite best efforts, the edge is not sealed tightly enough. When this happens, simply scrape away the spilled portion and continue as directed.
Cool on a wire rack.
Dust the top with powdered sugar, if desired.
Oh, and don't forget to place a gold crown on top (paper, ribbon or whatever kind you come up with!)
Share with friends and family.