Did you know that the 12th day of Christmas was actually today January 5th? It is then marked by January 6th which is known as the Epiphany which celebrated the visit of the Magi or the three kinds to see Christ. And how is this celebrated in France and around the world? With a fine French pastry of course! La Galette des Rois translates to the "Kings Cake" or the Twelfth-Night cake and can differ depending on where you are in France. They date back to the 16th century, in the 17th century the priests of Saint-Germain tried to stop the practice of the cake saying it was part of a pagan ritual. It rose again in popularity until Louis XIV and the church considered it a pagan ritual again and an excuse to indulge and banned the practice. But the people can not be parted with the pastries for long, they decided to create la fete du bon voisinage or the neighborly relations day. And when the king or royalty sunk in popularity during the French Revolution is became the Gateau de L'Egality or the equality cake.
In the different regions of France you will find a different version of the Galette de Rois. In Paris and Northern France it is made of flaky puff pastry and filled with a dense layer of pastry creme with almond or frangiopan. In Southern France it is made from brioche and shaped like a crown. The Gateau des Rois de Bordeaux is also a yeast based dough with a hint of lemon rind and the Gateau des rois de Limoux is much like the Bordeaux regions but decorated with candied citron.
Inside the cake there is a hidden lucky charm or une feve and was originally an actual bean, but with the popularity of the cake in the 18th century it was replaced to a small charm made of porcelain. It could be a tiny religious figure or baby Jesus or even a small Eiffel Tower that I stuck in mine. Whoever finds the charm gets to wear the crown and be King (or Queen) of the day. This reminds me of when I was a little girl and my great grandmother would always wrap up dimes and quarters in tin foil and hide them in any cake she made.
I took this as the perfect opportunity to make the wonderful French treat and while there are a few steps it comes together pretty easily, but you do have to plan ahead. Each thing can be made a day or so in advance so it makes it a easy to do weeknight item. I followed the Dorie Greenspan recipe in her book Paris Sweets and it turned out fantastic. The puff pastry is so light and delicate and the filling is rich and wonderful. Since there was just the two of us the charm was not found, but lets be honest. I think we know who the queen is everyday around here......