A sweet ending to the 12 days of Christmas > Recipes

Posted On January 6, 2007

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The 12 days of Christmas traditionally ends on January 6, with the feast of the Epiphany, also called Three Kings’ Day or the Adoration of the Magi.

By making special cakes and breads at this time of year, food cultures around the world honor the wise men or magi, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, whose search for the Christ child ended in Bethlehem.

In France, the Galette du Roi (King Cake) is customarily brought as a gift to family and friends to commemorate the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh delivered to the holy family by the wise men.

One version of the galette is a brioche type topped with candied fruit and sugar grains. The other one is a puff-pastry type of cake, similar to a pithiviers. It’s filled with frangipan cream. The kind you make depends on where you live in France. In Provence, for example, they make the brioche type.

KING FOR A DAY > The ritual, is to place a coin in the cake. When it is served to the children of the house, whoever gets the slice with the coin will be crowned king for that day.

To illustrate the point, a line of gold-foil, cardboard crowns were lined up on the counter as the chef worked the dough into a large square, using an eight-inch circle to cut out rings of pastry. The circles would serve as the top and bottom layers of the “cake” or tart. The chef chose to use puff pastry or choux pastry which was made in advance and chilled.

Pastry cream, made separately, was folded into the frangipan filling and then piped on to the bottom layer. With the top pastry in place and sealed to its partner, the chef then affixed decorative pastry cut-outs to the surface. A thick layer of egg wash, a mix of beaten egg and water, then was brushed on top to make the cake or tart glisten when it was baked. The oven temperature should be 390 degrees so the inside bakes. If it’s too low, the cake will dry out. Here’s the recipe for home bakers to experiment with in their own kitchens.

GALETTE DU ROI (Three Kings’ Cake) > Dough (puff pastry): 8 ounces bread flour Pinch salt 4-5 ounces lukewarm water 7 ounces butter Frangipan (filling): 1 ounce butter 3 1/2 ounces sugar 1 egg 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 teaspoon rum 2 drops almond extract 3 1/2 ounces almond flour, or 1 gram peeled almonds, ground fine in food processor 2 ounces pastry cream Pastry cream: 1 quart milk 1 vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla 8 ounces sugar 3 1/2 ounces cornstarch 8 egg yolks 4 ounces cold butter

To make dough: Mix bread flour, salt and water to make a firm dough. Place on work area and let rest a few minutes. Stretch dough into a square and then place small pieces of butter in the middle.

Fold each corner of dough into the center, covering the butter completely. Give the dough three single turns, each time folding it over the butter again. Place dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To make the pastry cream: Bring the milk to a boil; add the vanilla bean or vanilla. In a bowl, mix together the sugar, cornstarch and egg yolk.

Temper the yolk by mixing in a small amount of the warm milk. Then mix the tempered yolk into the warm milk. Once the milk comes to a boil, stir in pieces of the cold butter.

To make the frangipan: In a bowl, cream together the butter and sugar; mix in the egg and flavorings. Add the almond flour. Mix well and then fold in the pastry cream.

When ready to use, stretch the dough by rolling out to -inch thickness; cut out 8-inch circles for the base and top of the cake or tart. Set aside the top circle. (Any extra dough can be used to make additional smaller cakes.)

Pipe or spoon frangipan mixture onto 1 circle of dough, forming a dome in the center. Brush the outer 1-inch rim of the circle with egg wash. Cover the frangipan with another circle of dough; crimp the edges together with a fork to make sure the edges are well sealed.

Score the pastry by starting at the center and drawing a knife gently down almost to the edge of the circle, using a swirling motion. Repeat 6 to 8 time, moving around the pastry.

Designs can be made using a cookie cutter to cut out patters from leftover rolled-out dough; use egg wash so they adhere to the finished tart.

Thoroughly egg wash the entire top surface of the pastry. Bake in a preheated 390-degree oven until the top is golden brown. Cool slightly before serving, and cut into wedges. Makes about 8 servings.