While buckling back down at my desk on the Monday after the holiday season (and apparently during a polar vortex), I can’t help but think back to how I celebrated last year’s Epiphany. Rewind several months and you’d find me in a primary school in rural Burgundy honoring the holiday with my French students by slicing into a warm galette des rois, or kings’ cake. Looking out my window in Brooklyn, it all seems so quaint….
Of course, these cakes are not out of reach just because I’m out of la belle France. The holiday is Christian in origin, which means that the cake has just as many incarnations as the religion has reach.
A few years back, we wrote about a variation of the “bread of kings” that happens to be a local favorite in Sunset Park around this time of year. Rosca de reyes is a Lopez bakery specialty that accounts for over 4,000 orders come January. Each one includes a Baby Jesus figurine that, according to their tradition, obligates the recipient to throw a tamale party on February 2 (a decidedly more festive and generous tradition than in France where the recipient receives a crown). I want to place my own order next year for that reason alone.
Rosca, galette, cake or whatever, I’m for almost any reason to bake. Turns out it can be a great teaching tool, which I found out after re-creating the galette with my French students as part of an online exchange with my sister’s school in North Carolina. We didn’t have the most sophisticated kitchen equipment (e.g., a toaster oven in the teachers’ lounge), but I did witness my kids’ impressive baking skills in action, which led me to believe that the ability must be with them from birth.
The day’s drawing to a close, but I would argue that a cake that’s this good shouldn’t be limited to one day of the year. Some traditions say that it’s perfectly timely on up until Mardi Gras, in fact. If you don’t have a preferred recipe, I suggest the following that I brought back from my students. You can also listen to them practice their English (it was a lesson, after all) by playing the link below:
La galette des rois
2 sheets of flakey pastry
1 cup almond flour
⅓ cup sugar
½ stick of butter at room temperature
A few drops of almond extract
1 egg yolk (mixed with a little water) for brushing
1 figurine or trinket to bake into the cake
Preheat the oven at 410°F. Place one sheet of flakey pastry in a cake pan. Pierce it with a fork.
Mix all of the ingredients (almond flour, sugar, egg, butter, almond extract) together in a large bowl. Pour the batter into the cake pan, over the flakey pastry. Place the figurine.
Cover the batter with the second sheet of flakey pastry. Firmly press the edges with a fork to seal the cake. Brush the egg yolk and water mixture over the surface. Gently draw a design on top with a knife. Pierce the cake with a fork.
Place the cake in the oven and let it bake for around 30 minutes. Watch the cake for the final 15 minutes as some cook faster than others! The cake is ready when the crust is golden brown.