Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Galette des Rois


The decorations are still up in Paris, but the official end of the holiday season came on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. In France as in most of the western world, the feast marks the day in the Christian liturgy when the Magi arrived in Bethlehem "from the east" bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. If the three kings, as the Magi are popularly known, had come from France, they probably would have brought a Galette des Rois. 

Walk past any bakery in Paris right now and you'll see the windows heaped high with these round, golden, flaky pastries that are a French gastronomic tradition of the Feast of the Epiphany. Everyone loves them and it's a pretty good bet that from now to the end of January if you are invited anywhere for dinner, dessert will almost surely be a galette des rois.  

Inside the galette is a figurine know as a feve. The person who gets the feve will be crowned king with the festive paper crown that comes with every galette. Originally a bean was placed in the cake (feve is French for bean), but in the 1870s, porcelain figurines came into use. Now most feves are plastic, which, of course, has created a market for the old feves. There was a feve fair in Paris last weekend attended by hundreds of devoted collectors. Modern porcelain feves do still exist and come in all shapes and sizes. Famous bakeries offer  a yearly collector's series. (A couple of years ago, one enterprising baker in the Vaucluse region of France created a whole series made up of characters from the Kama Sutra.)

Each year the newspaper Le Figaro publishes a list of the best galettes in Paris. (Click here to read this year's list.) Almost everyone, however, has their favorite bakery and an opinion on what makes for a really great galette. Cooking experts agree that the galette should be a golden amber color (a pale galette means it's undercooked); should have a fine, light crust that holds its shape when it's cut; the frangipane filling should be properly balanced - one-third pastry cream to two-thirds almond cream; and lastly, the galette should be served warm. 

You can buy galetttes during the entire month of January and since many bakeries sell it by the slice, I've sampled lots of different galettes. I love the pâte feuilletée, the heavenly flaky crust, but not the almond cream filing. It reminds me too much of one of my least favorite sweets: marzipan. 

I was introduced to marzipan when I was working at my first job in Princeton New Jersey. My boss was an intelligent, urbane European man, (click here to read the post Ann Arbor Traveling), who was subject to outbursts of temper, which had often reduced his previous secretary to tears. The first time he yelled at me, instead of crying, I admonished him for his behavior, telling him in the process that I was a Trenton girl with better things to cry about than him. A remark like that could have gotten me fired. Instead, it earned me a heartfelt apology and a big box of marzipan, formed into perfect, small imitations of fruits, vegetables and flowers. I hated it at first taste, but politely told him it was great. Big mistake since I ended up working for him for several years. I've lost count of the number of boxes of marzipan he presented to me. 

So, as you can imagine, my first galette was a bit of a disappointment. Over the years, the galette des rois has grown on me, but I have never come to love it as passionately as the French. So I was really glad to see that on this year's list of best galettes is one from the Maison du Chocolat. It throws tradition to the wind and instead of frangipane, it's filled with a cream of dark chocolate from Ghana. I can't wait to try it. 

Millions of French people can't be wrong, however, so if you're not in France and would like to try a traditional frangipane galette des rois, click here for a recipe.

To see more photos, click here.

Bon appetit,

Photos (unless otherwise noted) by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments.