Epiphany: A sweet celebration in Paris

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January 6 is Epiphany and to celebrate there are Galettes des Rois or Kings Cakes in every pastry shop window in every city, town and village in France.  Depending on the shop, you might see the cakes as soon as the new year is rung in and they might get pride of place through all of January.  It’s a delicious tradition and a fun one too, since every galette comes with a trinket and a crown, some very basic, some worthy of being collected.

Galettes come in three versions.  The one you see most often, certainly in Paris, is composed of two rounds of puff pastry, sandwiching an almond/frangipane filling … or chocolate or rose or clementine or fig or whatever the chef’s whim is for the season.  

The one pictured above was made by Pierre Hermé, one of the world’s best pastry chefs.  He always makes a traditional galette with almond cream and this year he made one filled with chocolate and yuzu and another that was pure lemon.

If you live in Provence or Bordeaux, your galette des rois will be made of brioche in the shape of a crown (or donut) and will be covered with candied fruits and/or coarse sugar.  Here’s a bordalaise (Bordeaux style) galette:

galette bordeaux provence

Finally, there is the simplest galette, a puff pastry sandwich with no filling.  This is the galette that the famed bakery Poilâne produces every year, explaining that this is how the first galettes were made.  (Although this year, in a special collaboration with Toraya, Japanese confectioners since the 16th century, Poilâne made a galette filled with sweet red bean paste.) 

Poilane galette

No matter the style, there’s always the crown, the trinket baked into the cake and tradition: whoever gets the trinket gets the crown.  I’d say that it’s a winner-takes-all situation, but it’s not – everyone gets to enjoy the cake.