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Friendly feasting: Galette des rois is the king of sociable cakes
Just when you thought the feasting season was drawing to an end, bakeries across Belgium are filling up with almond pastry confections to celebrate Epiphany.
Galette des rois (Driekoningentaart in Dutch) is a gourmet treat that is typically shared between families, friends and colleagues in an edible competition to see who will be crowned king or queen.
Particularly popular in francophone countries, Epiphany kings’ 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 the Middle Ages, whoever became king was expected to pay a round of drinks, which led to some swallowing the bean to avoid lightening their purse.
Christians chose to celebrate the tradition at Epiphany, marking the visit of the three kings after the birth of Jesus. Although 6 January is the date for many to enjoy the cake, in some countries it’s the first Sunday of the year.
While there are numerous variations, in Belgium you’re likely to find layers of puff pastry filled with sweet almond frangipane plus the occasional additional flavour combination of chocolate, pistachio, apple or apricot.
The coveted fève or bean is usually a porcelain figurine, frequently a popular Disney figure to the delight of younger consumers. And each cake is accompanied by a decorated or gilded crown.
Epiphany cakes can found be in supermarkets and bakeries, with artisan examples the most appreciated by connoisseurs. Of course, you could try making one at home. It’s a relatively simple concoction of ready-rolled puff pastry, eggs, egg yolks, butter, sugar, ground almonds and an optional dash of rum or almond liqueur. Enjoy!
Photos: Galettes des rois on sale at Caprice, Bouge (Namur)