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A brief history of galette des rois

Some of the traditions behind the popular tasty treat - and how you can make it at home

GALETTE des rois are a common sight in supermarkets and bakeries across France at this time of year, as families across the country prepare to mark Epiphany.

Whether you prefer the frangipane-filled pastry or the brioche crown topped with candied fruit, you are in for a real treat at this time of year. Just watch out for the fève that may be hidden inside.

Read more: France celebrates with traditional galette des rois

It is an ongoing part of a tradition dating back to Roman times that the person who finds this fève inside their piece of galette becomes ‘king for a day’.

Originally, the fève was a bean, a symbol of fertility and the coming of spring.

Porcelain fèves first appeared in galettes baked in Limoges in 1875, and modern ones may also be made of plastic.

During the Revolution, the seasonal treats were known as galette de ‘la liberté’ or de l’egalité’. Indeed, since the Presidency of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, galettes served in the Élysée Palace have used these royal-neutral names, and contain no fèves.

There is even some debate over when the cakes should be eaten. Tradition has it that Epiphany - the day the three Kings first saw the infant Jesus - is on January 6 and that the cake should be enjoyed on the evening before, but the Vatican ruled in the 1960s that Epiphany should be on the first Sunday after January 1.

Regardless of what they are called, or exactly when they should be eaten, the good news is the pastries are just as easy to make at home - with or without the fève hidden inside.

Former chef Danielle Jackson, who is one of a handful of women in France to have held the prestigious ‘Disciple of Escoffier International’ honour, said that the tasty treat, “is too delicious and easy to do to be eaten on only one day of the year!”

She explained: “Brandy or rum is used to give the frangipane an extra kick, but that can be replaced with milk for a child-friendly option.

“I recommend using good quality, shop-bought puff pastry and making it from scratch is very time consuming – when you really want to be consuming the galette, not your time.”

Here is Ms Jackson’s recipe for delicious, home-made galette des rois:

100g caster sugar
100g softened, unsalted butter
2 eggs (one for the frangipane and the other beaten for the glaze)
100g ground almonds
1 tsp almond extract
1 tbsp rum, brandy (or milk)
plain flour (just for dusting)
500g shop-bought puff pastry (ideally in block form, not already rolled)

Serves 6-8
Preparation time: approximately 30 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F/gas mark 6) on the traditional setting (not fan) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

In a bowl, cream together the sugar and butter using the electric whisk on a medium speed. Add the egg and whisk until fully blended.

Add the ground almonds, almond extract, and rum or brandy or milk, and whisk into a thick paste.

Dust the work surface with flour. Roll out the pastry to a rectangle of approximately 50cm x 25cm. The pastry should be 3-5mm thick.

Place a dinner plate or other round object on the dough and cut out 2 discs of 10inches / 25cm diameter with the sharp knife.

Put one of the dough discs in the middle of the lined baking tray. With the pastry brush, put a little beaten egg around the edge of the disc.

Spoon the frangipane paste on to the disc and smooth it evenly with the back of the spoon up to the egg line (do not go on to the egg or there will be spillage during baking).

Place the second disc of dough on top of the filling. Press down lightly around the edge to seal the pie with your fingertips or the back of a fork.

For an artistic touch, take a sharp knife and score the traditional spiral design on top of the pie being careful not to cut through the pastry. You can even cut out shapes from the leftover dough and place on top.

Brush the top of the pie evenly with the beaten egg.

Bake near the top of the oven for 30 minutes, until golden brown and puffy.

Take the galette des rois out of the oven and let it cool on its tray for five minutes before transferring to a wire rack. It can be served warm or cold.

The galette can be kept in an airtight container for three days. It can also be frozen for up to eight weeks.

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