While most have already kicked the post-holiday health habits into full gear, the final day of Christmas is upon us (just hum along to the classic carol). The Epiphany, also known as the Feast of the Three Kings, Little Christmas and La Befana, is the final hoorah to wrap up the holidays.
The Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated in many nations in a myriad of ways, including the preparation of traditional treats. While there are several noble morsels including an Italian merengue type cookie known as the carbone dolce della befana (the sweet coal of the Befana), there was one in particular that appealed to my sweet tooth the most.
Many of the cultural festivities include the custom of gifting “king cakes” as a celebratory close to the Christmas season. These sweet loaves come in varying forms and names across the globe and often involve the practice of baking a trinket inside. When the cake is sliced and served, the recipient of the charm is named king or queen with a paper crown that is typically used as an adornment.
In Spain and Mexico, the king cake takes the form of a sweet bread known as Rosca de Reyes baked into the shape of a ring and garnished with strips of dried fruit; similarly, in Switzerland buns baked up into a crown and topped with citrus peel make up their Three Kings Cake; in Portugal a similar bread ring studded with raisins and crystallized fruit is known as Bolo Rei; and in the US it is quite common to see colorful Kings Cake during carnival season that are filled with cinnamon, glazed white, and coated in green and purple colored sanding sugar. The fluffy Italian panettone has also been associated with these festivities and served up as a king cake.
In other countries across the globe it is more of a traditional cake such as the Ciasto Trzech Kroli, the sponge cake with almond cream filling made in Poland; the rich, dense fruitcake served by the English known as the Twelfth Cake; or the crown-shaped cake or brioche filled with fruit called Gâteau des Rois in the South of France.
The final variation is a flaky, buttery one such as the Dutch Koningentaart, a puff pastry tart with almond filling; and the Galette des Rois, a round, flat, and golden cake made with flake pastry and filled with frangipane, fruit, or chocolate, that is made in Northern France and Belgium.
No matter the name, or how you slice it, the king cake is certainly a royal way to cap off the festive season and the crowning of a new tradition in my kitchen. Buon Appetito!
Since I am a huge fan of buttery puff pastry I experimented with the Galette des Rois and adapted a recipe from pastry chef David Lebovitz.
- 1 cup (100g) almond flour
- 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
- pinch salt
- zest of 1/2 orange
- 3 1/2 ounces (100g) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoon Amaretto liquor
- 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
- Dark chocolate shavings
- 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed and kept chilled
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon milk
- To make the almond filling, in a medium bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the almond flour, sugar, salt, and orange zest. Mash in the butter until it’s completely incorporated. Stir in the eggs one at a time, along with the rum, almond extract and chocolate shavings. (The mixture may not look completely smooth, which is normal.) Cover and chill.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On lightly floured surface, roll one piece of puff pastry into a circle about 9 1/2-inches (23cm) round. Using a pot lid, plate, or bottom of springform pan as a template, trim the dough into neat circle. Place the dough on the baking sheet.
- Cover it with a sheet of parchment paper or plastic film, then roll the other piece of dough into a circle, trim it, and lay it on top. Chill the dough for thirty minutes.
- Remove the dough and almond filling from the refrigerator. Slide the second circle of dough and parchment or plastic from pan so that there is only one circle of dough on the parchment lined baking sheet. Spread the almond filling over the center of the dough, leaving a 1-inch (3cm) exposed border.
- Brush water generously around the exposed perimeter of the dough then place the other circle of dough on top of the galette and press down to seal the edges very well. (At this point, you may wish to chill the galette since it’ll be a bit easier to finish and decorate, although it’s not necessary).
- To bake the galette, preheat the oven to 375ºF (180ºC.) Flute the sides of the dough and use a paring knife to create a design on top. Stir together the egg yolk with the milk and brush it evenly over the top – avoid getting the glaze on the sides, which will inhibit the pastry from rising at the edges. Use a paring knife to poke 5 holes in the top, to allow steam escape while baking.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until the galette is browned on top and up the sides. (During baking, if the galette puffs up too dramatically in the oven, you may want to poke it once or twice again with a paring knife to release the steam.) Remove from the oven and slide the galette off the baking sheet and onto a cooling rack. The galette will deflate as it cools, which is normal. Serve warm or at room temperature.