Galette des Rois, or French King Cake

galettedesrois_0007 The French ‘galette des rois’ is generally only eaten in January, most traditionally around the first week of January. The dessert – I don’t think ‘cake’ is the right word to describe it, although some do use that word when they talk about it in English – is eaten on Three Kings Day (also known as Epiphany – if you, like me, are so non-religious that you don’t even know what that means, check out the Wikipedia page).

On Three Kings Day, families eat a galette des rois, and the dessert has a small metal figurine baked into it. Whoever gets the piece with the figurine gets to wear the crown and be king for a day. Everyone else just gets a delicious dessert, which isn’t bad either.

One of my goals for the year is to seriously improve my cooking skills. Like everything else in my life, though, my interest in food is intertwined with my obsession with other cultures – more precisely, six specific other cultures. So my first culinary adventure this year was with a galette des rois.

I should mention that I had a bit of an advantage: When I lived in Paris, I made a galette des rois in my cooking class, so I had a pretty good idea of how I needed to proceed – even if that was three years ago now.

Pate Feuilletée

The first step in making a galette des rois – or in making any number of other French pastries – is to make a pate feuilletée. Pate feuilletée is sort of like a puff pastry, but I’ve never made a puff pastry so it’s hard for me to judge! This recipe is adapted from Je sais cuisinerby Ginette Mathiot, a cookbook that was recommended to me by several home chefs in France.

Ingredients:

200 grams of flour (about 1.5 cups)
100 grams of butter (about 1 stick)
cold water
a pinch of salt (only if using unsalted butter)

According to Je sais cuisiner, the butter to flour ratio is anything but fixed: It can be anything from 1:1 (the same weight of butter as flour) to 1:3 (the butter is equal to one third of the weight of the flour). The recipe they give calls for the butter to be about half of the weight of the flour.

This leads me to a quick rant: It seems like many people think that baking must be extremely precise. “Yes, if you’re cooking you can fudge things a little, but once you’re baking everything has to be measured very exactly.” As this recipe for pate feuilletée illustrates, that is BS. If you’re off in your butter measurements a bit, it is no big deal.

In a bowl (or just directly on the counter, as they would do in France but I find weird), mix the salt and the flour, and then make a mound with the flour, create an impression in the middle and pour in a small amount of water. I didn’t specify the amount of water because I find it varies so much depending on the type of flour that you use that providing a specific amount is useless.

Mix the flour and the water with your hands until you have a relatively pliable but not wet or sticky dough.

Roll the dough out on the counter. Put the butter in the center. The butter should be cold, and the best (easiest) way to arrange it is to cut thick slices and place them in a square in the center of the dough.

galettedesrois_0001Then you pull the dough from the sized over the butter. It’s like you’re wrapping the butter in the dough – in the end, you should have a ‘package’ of butter. The dough should completely cover the butter.

How to make pate feuilletee

Roll the dough out into a long rectangle, and then fold the dough in thirds, like you’re folding a napkin.

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Turn the dough lengthwise, and then roll it out again. Repeat.

After you’ve done three turns, but the dough in the fridge to rest for about 15 minutes. Then take it out and do three more ‘turns’ (rolling it out and folding it). Once you’ve done a total of six turns, you’re ready to use the dough. Yay!

The filling

The most common filling for galette des rois is an almond-based paste, and that’s what I used. For some reason, Je sais cuisiner did not have a recipe for galette des rois, so I turned to Marmiton – a site everyone interested in French cooking cooking should know about. It’s like allrecipes.com or other recipe sites – but in French, contributed by French people. I adapted this recipe from Marmiton.

100 grams of almond powder (about 4 ounces, or 1.5 cups)
75 grams of sugar (about 3 ounces, or a little over 1 cup)
1 egg
50 grams of butter (about 1 stick)

This is the easy part. Mix everything together in a bowl. I used my hands, which helped warm up the butter, but you can also warm up the butter some other way and use a wooden spoon.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Divide your pate feuilletée  into two, and roll both of them out. Cut them into a circle, using a cake or pie dish as a guide (alternatively, you can also make a square galette, but I like the circular one). Put the dough on a baking sheet, and poke holes in the bottom with a fork.

Spread the filling on the bottom, leaving about half an inch of space around the edges. Wet the edges with water or a mix of water and egg yolk. Put the second pate feuilletée on top, and press it down along the edges to make sure that the two doughs are connected. Use a fork to poke holes along the top of the dough, and, if you feel like it, score the top of the dough with a knife to create a decorative pattern.

Brush egg yolk over the top.

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Bake the galette at 400 degrees (Fahrenheit!) for around 30 minutes, or until it is golden brown on top.

Eat and enjoy!

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