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The feasting continues with seasonal speciality Galette des rois
Pastry shops across Belgium are showing off their almond pastry confections to celebrate Epiphany on 6 January. Galette des rois (Driekoningentaart in Dutch) is a sweet treat that’s one of Belgium’s new year culinary highlights.
It’s also the king of sociable cakes, shared between families, friends and colleagues in an edible competition to see who will be crowned king or queen for the day.
Widely appreciated in francophone countries, the cakes were originally a pagan celebration of the winter solstice. The Romans baked a black or white bean into the cake in a draw to be king for the day. In medieval times, whoever became king had to offer a round of drinks, which led to some swallowing the bean to avoid lightening their purse.
It then became a Christian tradition, honouring Epiphany and the visit of the three kings after the birth of Jesus. Custom dictated that the pastry was divided up according to the number of people around the table, leaving one slice as ‘la part du pauvre’.
The coveted fève, or bean, is usually a porcelain figurine, with cartoon characters among the most popular. Each cake is accompanied by a decorated or gilded crown to be adorned by whoever’s lucky enough to find the hidden trinket.
Although 6 January is the date for many to enjoy the cake, in some countries it’s the first Sunday of the year. Among the numerous variations to the classic puff pastry layers filled with sweet almond frangipane, are the additional flavours of chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio, apple or apricot.
Epiphany cakes can found be in supermarkets and bakeries, with artisan examples the most appreciated by connoisseurs. It’s a lucrative business for bakeries and the popular pastries can often be found in windows and display cases throughout the month of January.
Brussels artisan pâtissier Brian Joyeux prepares 1,500 Galettes des rois for its customers in the new year. The number is limited by the need to order the porcelain figurines (pictured) a year in advance (the wild animal characters replicated on the crown). As well as the classic almond filling, it creates a new flavour combination each season; this year’s offering being frangipane with raspberry.
The reputable baker serves only six-portion galettes, “to ensure conformity and quality”, pointing out that the pastry stays fresh for a few days.
If you fancy making one yourself, the recipe is a relatively simple concoction of ready-rolled puff pastry, eggs, egg yolks, butter, sugar, ground almonds and an optional dose of rum or almond liqueur.
Photos: Galettes des rois at Brian Joyeux patissier © Sarah Crew